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by Floyd Miller 

NEW YORK 1963 

Copyright , 1963 by Floyd Miller 
All rights reserved. Printed in the U.S.A. 

First Printing August 1963 
Second Printing October 1963 

No part of this book may be reproduced in any 
form without permission in writing from the pub- 
lisher, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote 
brief passages in connection with a review written 
for inclusion in a magazine, newspaper or broadcast. 

Published simultaneously in Canada by 

Clarke, Irwin & Company Limited, 

Toronto and Vancouver 

Portions of this book first appeared in the 
February 1963 issue of The Reader's Digest 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 63-15771 

For Frank Kolars 



1. tlenson aboard the Wind<ward 

2. The Pole was won! 
3. Dr. Frederick A. Cook 

4. Robert E. Peary 

5. Xhe expedition ship Roosevelt 

6. Searching the horizon 

7. The climax of a life! 

8. Peter Freuchen 

9. Matthew and Lucy Henson "with President Eisenhower 

10. Plaque 


Polar Exploration Route Taken by Peary and Henson 


I first came upon the legend of Matthew Henson through a visit 
with Admiral Donald MacMillan. Sitting in his Provincetown 
home (which is as much museum as house), this last survivor of 
the Peary 1909 expedition to the North Pole told weird and 
wonderful stories that brought his old comrade to life. From that 
day this book was destined. MacMillan is in no way responsible 
for the conclusions reached on the following pages, but he is 
responsible for the beginning of my outrage that history should 
have largely passed over such a man as Henson. 

As I began my research on this biography I was amazed to find 
the high degree of emotion that exists today over events of five 
decades ago. In 1909 both Commander Robert E. Peary and Dr. 
Frederick Cook claimed to have discovered the North Pole, and 
there was launched a public controversy seldom matched for 
acrimony. Even today the descendants of these two families are 
touched by the original passion. Historians and biographers who 
have treated this material have, in general, become partisans. Such 
was the high adventure, the heroism, the suffering and stunning 
disappointments, the betrayals and perfidy surrounding these two 
that no man could view them without being moved. 

It was the very intensity of the battle that seemed to obscure the 
fact that a third man was most intimately involved. In truth, if 
there had not been this third man, this quiet Negro named 
Matthew Henson, there would have been no controversy; there 
would have been no discovery of the Pole at least, not in that 

[ 8 ] 

Acknowledgments [ 9 ] 

day by that cast of men. This book, then, is about that catalyst- 
Matthew Henson. 

After being alerted to this story by Admiral MacMillan, I went 
to see Marie Peary Stafford, the famous "Snow Baby" who was 
born in the North during her father's second North Greenland 
Expedition. Today she is the keeper of the Peary archives, the 
gallant defender of the Peary name. When I presented myself to 
her in Brunswick, Maine, she told me, with traditional family 
bluntness, that she heartily disapproved of my project. Yet, such 
was her graciousness and sense of fair play that she gave me her 
attention, then her memories, and finally access to the Peary files. 

No less gallant was Cook's daughter, Helene Cook Vetter. 
Knowing I had become convinced that the truth was mainly on 
Peary's side, she still went to considerable trouble to supply me 
with material concerning Henson. 

Lucy Henson, Matthew's widow, living in the pin-neat Harlem 
apartment she shared with her husband, gave me scrapbooks that 
were of great value. Herbert Frisby, reporter for the Baltimore 
Afro-American, exposed me to his extraordinary energy and 
record of accomplishment on behalf of Henson's memory. 

Dr. Vilhjalmur Stefansson received me at Hanover, New 
Hampshire, about a month before his death. In his eighties, he was 
lucid and incisive and uncompromising. The intellectual among 
Arctic explorers, he pungently put the period and its men in 
perspective and urged the completion of this book. H. Wales Lee, 
son of Peary's companion on the Greenland ice cap, let me read 
his father's unpublished diary with its moving accounts of suf- 
fering and heroism. My friend, Professor Kenneth Wiggins of the 
City College of New York and of Block Island, kindly read the 
manuscript to check my geography and celestial navigation. 

Librarians are surely a special breed. Their enthusiasm and en- 
terprise have sustained many a writer. I am particularly indebted 
to the following: Evelyn Stefansson, Baker Library, Dartmouth 
College; Frederick Meigs, Main Navy Library, Washington, D.C.; 
Ona Lee McKeen, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Vir- 


ginia Hills, National Geographical Society, Washington, D.C.; 
Virginia Richardson, Morgan State College, Baltimore, Maryland; 
Katherine Zimmerman, historian, Bureau of Yards and Docks, 
United States Navy, Arlington, Virginia; and my own librarians 
in Nyack, New York, Mary Proper and Edith Doig. 


Polar Exploration 

Peary and Hen 


On "G" Street in Washington, D.C., stood the hat store of 
B. H. Steinmetz and Sons, and it seemed an unlikely starting point 
for great events. It was filled with a musty-dusty odor, and 
generally with a quiet that was neither repose nor contemplation, 
but merely a vacuum awaiting the entrance of a customer. More- 
over, the very merchandise tended to depress the spirit: rack 
upon rack of identical brims and crowns gave the illusion of a 
battalion of faceless creatures pressed into ultimate conformity. 

And yet a man's destiny, if it is bold enough and strong enough, 
can overtake him most any place. It overtook Matthew Henson in 
the spring of 1887. He was stock boy in that hat store. 

"Matt!" called Sam Steinmetz from the display room. "Bring a 
size seven and three-eighths sun helmet. They're on the shelf 
above the panamas." 

Henson moved a small stepladder, ran up it with twenty-year- 
old nonchalance, retrieved an oval hatbox, and jumped down to 
carry it quickly to the front room. There both his employer and 
the customer looked at him in a speculative manner. 

"This is the boy I was telling you about, Lieutenant," Steinmetz 

The customer was a young naval officer, tall and spare, yet 

[ 13 ] 

[ 14 ] AHDOOLO! 

deep of chest. His sandy hair and shaggy mustache framed a 
strong, aquiline nose and blue eyes that were measuring but with- 
out craft. His impeccable manners did not, however, entirely 
cover a thrust of steel the metal of his ambition and his absolute 

He accepted the sun helmet, adjusted it levelly on his head, 
looked into the mirror, and said to Henson's reflection, "I am 
Lieutenant Peary, and Fm going to Nicaragua to survey a pro- 
posed ship's canal between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. I 
need a responsible boy to go with me as personal servant, to 
keep my clothes and quarters clean. It's jungle country, a nasty 
climate; the work won't be easy. Mr. Steinmetz recommends you. 
Do you want the job? " 

Unperturbed by the lieutenant's abruptness, Henson thought a 
moment, then said, "Yes, sir, I think I'd like to have it." 

Peary removed the sun helmet, indicated he would take it, then 
demanded of the boy, "What other jobs have you had?" 

Henson was a Negro and his jobs had all been modest ones. He 
told his story in a soft, unaccented voice with a straightforward 
regard for facts. He neither boasted nor apologized. He was 
shorter than the lieutenant, and stockier, but his brown skin 
covered flat, hard muscles that moved his body with beautiful 
coordination. He had that combination of strength and grace 
which promised an easy mastery of any manual skill. When he 
finished his story he stopped talking. 

The officer studied him a moment longer, observed a quiet 
dignity quite remarkable in one so young, and finally said, "I 
will supply you transportation, all maintenance, and pay you 
twenty dollars a month. If that is satisfactory, be prepared to 
leave within two weeks." 

These crisp, commonplace words established a relationship that 
was to be unique. Lieutenant Peary was to become Admiral 
Robert E. Peary, the relentless explorer of the Arctic, finally the 
discoverer of the North Pole, and Matthew Henson was to be 
with him from 1887 to 1909, a twenty-two-year journey. They 
were to be bound together with the intimacy of loneliness, of 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 15 ] 

pain, of hunger, of defeat. They were together, half alive, at the 
moment of triumph. 

Ten days following the sale of the sun helmet, Matthew Hen- 
son received an envelope containing a railroad ticket for one pas- 
sage from Washington to New York, and additional cash to take 
him to a designated pier on the Brooklyn waterfront where he 
was to meet Peary on board a steamer. He had no one to say 
good-by to, except Sam Steinmetz, and his total possessions fitted 
on his back and into a small cardboard case. He walked under the 
great arches of the Washington railroad terminal, took a faded 
green plush seat in the rear of the smoking car, all with an incon- 
spicuousness bordering on the invisible. Even the conductor who 
took his ticket failed to see him, and was aware only that a brown 
hand held out the proper pasteboard. No one could have known 
that this man was to become a legend in his time, a folk hero 
among the Eskimos; that he was to be propelled into the bitter 
controversy between Peary and Cook, hooted and jeered in pub- 
lic; and in the end was to receive a medal from a Congress re- 
luctant and dismayed at the necessity of honoring a "nigger" but 
bowing to public opinion. None of this attention, this notoriety, 
was sought by Henson. What drove him was a thirst for adven- 
ture; the rest was a by-product of his time and his color. 

When Henson arrived in Brooklyn and found the ship that 
was to take him to Nicaragua the decks were a scene of confu- 
sion. Not only was baggage and equipment and ship's stores being 
taken aboard, but the large party of civil engineers milled aim- 
lessly about. They were mustachioed men in whipcord pants and 
puttees, and their broad gestures and loud words were designed 
to cover the fact that most of them had never before been aboard 
a ship. 

Henson walked among them with a light, sure step, and dis- 
appeared below. He had never been aboard this particular ship 
before, yet he knew his way about. The truth was, he was an 
Able Seaman. He had first shipped out when he was twelve 
years old. 

[ 16 ] AHDOOLO! 

The year was 1879 when a ragged Negro boy came to the 
Baltimore waterfront and stared, open-mouthed, at the towering 
ships. None of them seemed more glorious than the three-masted 
sail and steam merchantman Katie Hines. Her shrouds ran to 
crosstrees at a dizzying height, and her name was carved on her 
bow in letters as high as Matthew himself, and were surely made 
of pure gold. 

A hulking man of sixty years looked down at him from the 
port rail. His hair was white and his face and hands the color of 
teakwood and his voice could carry to the topgallants from the 
weather deck in the middle of a nor'easter. He was Captain Childs 
and he was as impressive as his ship. 

Captain Childs knew men; he had to in order to select a proper 
crew in these boisterous days. He could look at a man and tell 
the difference between courage and bravado, between silence and 
sullenness, between shyness and fear, and he could handle each 
condition with quick justice. He was able to run his ship with a 
relaxed hand because his men knew he was capable of righteous 

He looked down now at the colored boy and knew the boy 
wanted to speak to him. But he gave him no help; he merely 
looked and waited. 

Matthew swallowed several times, then called, "You the cap- 
tain, sir?" 

"Aye," boomed Childs. 

Again a moment of silence while the boy worked up to the 
next sentence. "You need a cabin boy, sir?" 

"You offerin' to ship out, lad?" 

"Yes, sir. I mean, aye, sir." 

"Come aboard and let me look at ya." When the boy was on 
the quarter-deck in front of the captain his head was about level 
with the big brass buckle on the man's belt. "What's your name?" 
Childs demanded. 

"Matthew Henson, sir. Matthew Alexander Henson." 

"And how old be ya, Matthew?" 

"Twelve, sir." 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 17 ] 

Captain Childs said, "You look pretty dirty and raggedy, 
Matthew. A sailor has to keep himself neat and clean." 

"I just walked from Washington, sir." 

"All the way from Washington?" The captain was impressed. 
"Just so you could go to sea?" 

"Yes, sir. Do you need a cabin boy?" 

"Now, tell the truth, lad" the captain laid a heavy paw on the 
boy's shoulder "what would your folks say if you ran off 
to sea?" 

"My mom and pop are dead." 

"Oh? Did you run away from school?" 

"No, sir. My Aunt Jenny was gonna send me, but I'd rather 
go to sea. And she ain't really my aunt. I washed dishes in her 
restaurant and slept in the kitchen at night. When I told her what 
I wanted to do, she said it was all right and she give me a dollar." 

The captain turned abruptly to a man standing nearby and 
trumpeted, "Mr. Tracy, this is my new cabin boy, Matthew 
Alexander Henson. Take him to the fo'c'sle and clean him up 
and find him a bunk. He's been running afoul some heavy 
weather and needs rest." 

In the following few years Matthew received from Captain 
Childs a rudimentary education. Of course, he brought to his 
teacher some special wisdoms, things Childs could never know. 
He had been born to impoverished sharecroppers in Charles 
County, Maryland, and he knew the sounds of the night riders of 
the Ku Klux Klan. Hidden in bushes, he had witnessed the sadism, 
the obscenities committed by these white men. He knew the 
worst of life; he was yet to find its compensations. Still, he was 
surprisingly unscarred. At twelve years of age he was neither 
aggressive nor submissive; he wanted adventure and he was will- 
ing to work for it; there was a simplicity about him, a sturdiness 
of purpose, and an even disposition. These qualities endeared him 
to Captain Childs. 

They sailed together for six years, south around the Straits of 
Magellan and across the Pacific to the China Seas, eastward across 
the Atlantic and into the Baltic. Matt grew up during this time 

[ 18 ] AHDOOLO! 

and learned first to read and write, then the skills of an Able- 
Bodied Seaman. He learned to play the sailor's instrument, the 
concertina, and developed a true voice. Despite the fact that he 
was the captain's favorite, he was popular with the crew and was 
content to remain aboard the Katie Hines as long as she sailed. 

Matthew was eighteen when Captain Childs died. In grief he 
quit the Katie Hines and shipped aboard a Newfoundland fishing 
boat. There he learned what it meant to be a Negro in a hostile 
white crew. There was no wise and protective captain to stand 
between him and the realities of race prejudice, and he quit the 
ship for a series of jobs ashore. He was stevedore, chauffeur, mes- 
senger, common laborer, and finally stock clerk in the hat store. 
And now he was back aboard a ship again, bound for Nicaragua 
with Lieutenant Peary. 

Peary was a civil engineer on leave from the Navy to head up 
this job for the Maritime Canal Company. He was in charge of 
forty-five engineers and instructed to bring back a survey for a 
practical canal linking the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. This was 
the second expedition the Maritime Canal Company had sent 
south, and Peary, who had also been on the first one, so impressed 
his employers that this time he was the engineer in charge. 

True, the French were digging a canal in Panama but with 
little efficiency and not much promise of completion. And every- 
one knew that the Panama topography was not nearly so good 
as that which Peary was to survey farther north. In the entire 
mountain backbone that stretches from Bering Strait in the north 
to that of Magellan in the south, the lowest pass was along the 
proposed Nicaragua route. Also, in the center of the isthmus 
there was large Lake Nicaragua which could accommodate ocean- 
going vessels, thus reducing the mileage to be dug and locked. 
A commission of U.S. Army Engineers had previously examined 
all possible routes in Central America and had recommended this 

After leaving the United States the ship made one stop at 
Jamaica to pick up a hundred Negro laborers, then proceeded to 
the port of San Juan del Norte in Nicaragua and the work began. 
Peary divided his forces into six land parties, each commanded 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 19 1 

by a sectional engineer, one hydrographic party, and two boring 
parties. Peary himself, with Henson, ranged back and forth along 
the entire 170-mile line between the two oceans, and under the 
most primitive conditions the two men grew to know each other. 

Plunging into the tropical jungle, Peary and Henson found it 
impossible to advance so much as ten feet without hacking open 
a path with machetes. They waded through slush and mud waist- 
deep; they fought insects and the enervating heat. They lay down 
at night on the banks of turgid rivers with palm leaves for mat- 
tresses and the ugly snouts and protuberant eyes of alligators 
ringing the water's edge to watch over their fitful sleep. The 
night had no silence; it rang with the screams of tigers, the grunts 
and splashing of alligators, the howling of monkeys, the whistles 
and cries of nocturnal birds. Occasionally there came a great 
booming, like the distant report of a cannon, and its sound echoed 
through the swamp, bringing fresh cries of alarm from the an- 
imals. It was the sound of no army, but the death note of a giant 
tree in the inland forest as it crashed to earth, carrying with it 
everything within reach. 

Gaining the forest gave Peary and Henson blessed respite from 
the swamps but it brought its own problems. The trees were true 
giants: almendro, havilan, gauchipilin, cedar, and cottonwoods 
rose 200 feet into the air, their great trunks bare until they 
reached the very tops where a thick tangle of branches and leaves 
wove a canopy that blotted out the sky and sun. In the permanent 
twilight below was a tropical thicket made almost impenetrable 
by vines as thick as a man's arm and stout as the toughest hemp. 
They bound the underbrush together in an elastic sort of mat that 
had to be hacked and sawed through before a man could step 
forward. Even then, the vines crept along the ground to catch the 
intruders' feet in a mesh from which release could be won only 
by the use of the machete. The vines caught hold of every pro- 
jection on a man's clothing, jerking revolvers from belts, wrench- 
ing rifles from hands, tearing at buttons, even hanging in loops to 
catch a man around the throat. After a few days in this nightmare 
even the swamps seemed beckoning. 

Peary ranged through this inhospitable land at a killing pace, 

[ 22 ] AHDOOLO! 

"Valuable? It's beyond value, Henson. It was given to me by 
the woman Fm going to marry." 

Henson was amazed that his employer could have such a 
tender emotion. The truth was, Peary was a caldron of emotion. 
He was an artist of no inconsiderable ability, and he wrote with 
a vivid, if florid style. When he graduated from Bowdoin College 
in 1877 he wrote the class ode, the opening stanza of which read: 

Listen, Old Oak, 

Aid I invoke, 
Aid from thy sylvan heart. 

Hush thy soft sighs, 

Bend from the skies, 
Teach me one song ere we part. 
Teach me those mystical, murmurous strains, 
Born of the sunshine, the wind and the rains, 
Give me thy restless wild essence of life, 
Let my verse thrill like an army's wild strife, 

The youthful hyperbole was largely under control by the time 
he met Henson, except where his family was concerned then he 
slipped into naked sentimentality. 

The emotions that constantly flayed Peary, the symbols with 
which he ornamented his life, were beyond Henson's comprehen- 
sion. Even the personal qualities of honor and dignity, which 
Peary embraced with such uncompromising rigidness, came to 
the Negro quietly and easily and largely unsought. He was a 
much less complicated man, to be sure, and he didn't have con- 
stantly to square his ambition with his ethics. 

If he failed to understand fully the reasons for his employer's 
postures, he intuitively understood the very human frailties that 
created them, and he felt a fondness and a protectiveness toward 
the man. 

Peary's field work was completed early in the summer of 1888, 
and he returned to Washington that July. During the voyage 
back, Henson speculated on his own future, but not with any 
real concern. He had seven months' unspent pay in his pocket, 
enough to sustain himself while he looked around. He would 
have liked to stay with Peary but the lieutenant was returning to 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 23 ] 

a Navy desk job and there was obviously no need for a partially 
educated Negro boy there. No matter, something would turn up. 

It did. On the last day out from port, Peary summoned him 
into his cabin and said, "Matt, you did a good job in Nicaragua." 

"Thank you, sir," he said. The praise was welcome because it 
was the first he'd received. 

Peary was stretched out in his bunk, arms beneath his head, 
and for several long moments he studied the bulkhead opposite. 
When he finally spoke again it was to himself as much as to 
Henson. "Isn't it amazing that we are almost into the twentieth 
century and yet there remain thousands upon thousands of square 
miles on this planet that man has never seen! The Polar caps may 
be deserts, utterly lifeless places; or they may hide a new breed 
of man, strange animals and plants. . . . We don't know. For 
three hundred years the great powers of the world have been 
sending expeditions north without doing more than touching the 
edge of the Polar vastness. No man has come within six hundred 
miles of the North Pole. That land must be explored and claimed 
by an American. I'm going to do it. Somehow, I'll do it." 

Peary removed his eyes from the bulkhead and looked at Hen- 
son. "Matt, I'm going to try and organize an expedition to explore 
North Greenland. Do you want to go along?" 

"Well, sir . . ." 

"Before you answer, let's face the fact that you are a son of the 
equator. You were fine in Nicaragua but the North may be hard 
for you. It will be difficult for all of us, but perhaps especially 
for you." 

If Peary had meant it as a challenge, he achieved his purpose. 
Henson said, "I'll go north with you, sir, and I think I'll stand 
it as well as any man." 

"I haven't any money, Matt, and I'll have to get some wealthy 
men to finance the expedition. I may not be able to pay you any- 
thing but subsistence and transportation." 

"I'll go," Henson said firmly. The implication that a Negro 
would not survive the North had hardened within him a deter- 
mination to prove otherwise. Secretly, he wondered if perhaps 
it was true. 


Upon his return home Peary was put back on active duty at the 
League Island Navy Yard in Philadelphia. And there he found 
a job for Henson as his messenger. It was rather grandiose for a 
Navy lieutenant to have a personal messenger, but Peary was a 
rather grandiose man. 

Henson, a Negro civilian employee in the caste-conscious 
Navy, was at the very bottom of the social scale; so far down, in 
fact, that no one bothered even to notice him. It was he who 
stepped aside in a corridor for another to pass, he who held open 
the doors, opened and closed windows, delivered messages, all 
the time the invisible man. 

He did his work with quiet and cheerful efficiency, mean- 
while observing the fortunes of the man to whom he was com- 
mitted. Immediately upon returning from Nicaragua, Peary mar- 
ried the girl who had given him the locket. She was Josephine 
Diebitsch, daughter of Professor Herman H. Diebitsch of the 
Smithsonian Institution. She was a handsome and aristocratic 
young lady, a belle of Washington's highest society, yet the all- 
but-penniless Peary had not been intimidated, and his dash and 
ardor had carried the day. 

Some time after the marriage Peary said to Henson, "I told 

F 24 1 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 25 ] 

Mrs. Peary how you found the locket, Matt. She was pleased." 

If there was a touch of noblesse oblige in the statement, Matt 
didn't notice it. He grinned and said, "It was a good thing we 
found it, sir." 

Peary nodded solemnly. "Yes, it was," 

Henson also observed the effect upon Peary of the subsequent 
battle in Washington over the Nicaragua Canal. Peary's plans 
had been highly praised by his employers and the company was 
granted a government charter with a capitalization of $100,000,- 
000. Before the actual digging could begin, however, a treaty 
between Nicaragua and the United States had to pass the Senate, 
and before that happened it became clear that the French were 
in deep trouble with their Panama Canal. The French finally 
offered to sell it to the United States for $40,000,000, and since it 
was already partly dug, it seemed like a bargain. Congress aban- 
doned the Nicaragua project and authorized President Theodore 
Roosevelt to buy out the French and complete the Panama Canal. 
He promptly did so. 

Though Peary, along with many other experts, maintained that 
the Nicaragua route was the preferable one, the defeat of his 
plan seemed not to affect him at all. Peary had already turned his 
face north and his days and nights were filled with dogged ap- 
peals for funds and endorsements and with maneuvers to obtain 
another Navy leave. 

During April, 1891, a Philadelphia newspaper carried the fol- 
lowing item: "Robert E. Peary, Engineer at the Naval Dockyard, 
is now engaged in fitting out his expedition to North Greenland. 
As is well known, it is his intention to try to ascertain the exten- 
sion of Greenland northwards, by undertaking an excursion on 
sledges over its snow-covered interior. His companions on the 
expedition are not yet decided upon." 

That last sentence did it! Suddenly Henson found himself the 
buffer between Peary and a flood of applicants for the expedi- 
tion: college students and professors, soldiers of fortune, military 
men, athletes, crackpots. They wrote, they telegraphed, they ap- 

[ 26 ] AHDOOLO! 

peared in person, and one by one Henson led them into Peary's 
office for interviews. 

One young applicant, who was eventually chosen to make the 
expedition, was a Norwegian ski champion by the name of Eivind 
Astrup. He had read the newspaper clipping, and though he 
spoke little English, he was determined to try for a place and 
went to the Navy Yard to demand an audience. He later wrote 
of this: 

I entered the corridors of the dockyard's office, certain of victory. 
A young man of African origin, afterwards the illustrious "Matt," 
showed me into Lieutenant Peary's working room, where I was most 
heartily received. . . . His whole appearance inspired me with ab- 
solute confidence. His tall, lean figure was elastic and sinewy; his 
features, coarse but determined, were aglow with intrepid resolution. 
Scarcely had our conversation begun before I found myself obliged 
to pull the friend textbooks out of my pocket. With feverish quick- 
ness I ran over the leaves during the remainder of my visit, hardly 
ever finding the words I wanted, but managing at last, in rather 
laconic sentences, to give expression to what was in my mind. 

In the course of conversation I noticed that Mr. Peary's black 
servant now and then disappeared through a side door with strange 
grimaces, returning soon afterwards with an uncomfortably serious 
and distorted face. He afterwards admitted that this happened when- 
ever he lost control over his risible muscles as he saw me consult my 
dictionary. 1 

Astrup was not offended by Matt no one ever was. It was his 
lively sense of humor that endeared him to people. And here 
again master and servant differed; for Peary, except when safely 
in the bosom of his family, had little humor. Peary had a sense of 
poetry, of destiny, of compassion, of fitness, of justice, of dig- 
nity, but little sense of humor, because he strove for perfection. 

William Hazlitt wrote, "Man is the only animal that laughs and 
weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck by the difference 
between what things are, and what they ought to be." 

Peary was determined to make what things were into what 
they ought to be; thus he could neither weep nor laugh. 

As he interviewed the prospective members of his expedition, 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 27 ] 

he had a yardstick by which he measured each man: he visualized 
him on the trail with food supplies running low and an Arctic 
storm descending. 
On this subject he wrote, 

Taking it for granted that in situations requiring great power of 
endurance and capabilities for resisting hunger, thirst, exposure and 
fatigue ... an intelligent and educated man will hold out longer 
than an ordinary one, and it is will power that does it, the superiority 
of mind over matter, in what way does this will power act? ... It is 
a direct, conscious, painful exertion of the will saying to the body, 
"You shall not give up. You must keep on. I will make you." ... an 
educated man knows better how to take care of himself, how to 
husband his resources so that every particle of force or stamina, of 
life itself, shall tell in the bitter struggle. . . . 2 

By this yardstick of education Peary was to make some grievous 
mistakes in his selection of men. By using this yardstick he long 
underestimated Henson's qualities. 

Among the men who presented themselves as candidates was a 
Dr. Frederick A. Cook, a surgeon practicing in New York City, 
who was most personable and twenty-six years of age. His bedside 
manner could have built a large and lucrative practice, but he 
had a thirst for adventure. He was young, strong, educated. He 
met all of Peary's standards. And there was need of a physician 
on the expedition. He was signed on. In the years to come Peary 
was to regret that act more than any other one of his life. 

In the winter of 1890-91 the American Geographical Society, 
the Brooklyn Institute, and the Philadelphia Academy of Sciences 
agreed to sponsor the expedition. Peary obtained leave from the 
Navy, and the barkentine Kite, a sealer, was chartered. Besides 
the ship's crew, the expedition consisted of Astrup, Dr. Cook, 
surgeon and ethnologist, Langdon Gibson, ornithologist and chief 
hunter, John T. Verhoeff, a rather dour mineralogist and 
meteorologist who not only went without pay (as did all of 
them) but contributed $2,000, Henson, Peary, and, rather sur- 
prisingly (and dismayingly to the rest of the expedition), Mrs. 

Just before departure, Peary called Henson to him and said, 

[ 28 ] AHDOOLO! 

"Matt, here's a paper I'd like you to sign. It is the same state- 
ment I'm requiring from all members of the expedition." The 
paper read: 

This agreement made between Robert E. Peary, of the United States 
Navy, and MATTHEW HENSON of Maryland. WITNESSETH: Whereas 
there is to be undertaken forthwith an expedition to, and into the 
interior of, Greenland, the same to be known as and called the North 
Greenland Expedition, of which Expedition said Robert E. Peary is 
to be sole Commander; 

Now therefore, that said MATTHEW HENSON agrees hereby to under- 
take with the said Peary and said expedition, for the SUCH purposes 
and objects as said Peary may decide to be practicable and desirable, 
whether now fully determined or not; and, further, 

First: That he, the said MATTHEW HENSON, will faithfully obey all 
directions and fully carry out all instructions given by the said Peary. 
Second: That he will loyally aid and support the said Peary by 
all means in his power, to accomplish each and every object and 
purpose of the expedition aforesaid, in such manner as the said Peary 
shall deem best and require. 

Third: That he will not write, or cause to be written or published 
or furnish to any person such information that such person may write 
or cause to be printed or published, any newspaper or magazine article 
or articles, and pamphlet or printed sheet whatever, containing any 
discussion or description of theories or plans of Greenland explora- 
tions, the experiences or results of this expedition, or the work of 
any member thereof, in any shape or manner, until the expiration 
of four months after the date of the recognized return of the ex- 
pedition to the place of departure; and further, that he will not write 
or cause to be written or published, or furnish to any person such 
information that such person may write or cause to be written or 
published, any book, pamphlet or narrative whatever, in any way 
appertaining to, or descriptive of said expedition, or of any theories 
or plans of Greenland explorations until one year after the complete, 
regular, official narrative of said expedition, approved by said Peary, 
shall have been published and offered for sale. 

Fourth: That the said Peary, in his capacity of Commander of the 
Expedition, is to be the sole judge of the time to be devoted to it, 
the distances to be traversed, the courses to be pursued, the methods 

The Biography of Matthew A. Benson [ 29 ] 

and means necessary for the accomplishment of the purposes of the 
expedition, and the special duties and departments of work for each 
member thereof, unless he shall authorize some member of the ex- 
pedition to act for him in one or more of the particulars aforesaid, 
in which case the said MATTHEW HENSON agrees to yield due obedience 
to the person designated by said Peary so to act. 

Fifth: That all scientific collections made, and all materials ac- 
quired by MATTHEW HENSON during the absence of the expedition 
shall be turned over to said Peary or packed and taken in charge of 
as said Peary may direct, to become the property of the Academy 
of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, Penn. 

Sixth: The authority of said Peary to act as herein stipulated shall 
begin at the time of the departure from the city of New York and 
continue until the return to the said place of departure. 

And the said Peary, in consideration of the above services fairly 
and justly rendered, and of the other stipulations of said MATTHEW 
HENSON herein contained, agrees to provide said MATTHEW HENSON 

First: Subsistence and transportation, befitting such an expedition, 
during the time intervening between the departure from and return 
to New York City, of said expedition. 

Second: Various items of outfit, viz.: rifle and ammunition, hunting 
knife and belt, oilskin suit, rubber blanket, sleeping bag, snowshoes, 
and such other minor items of outfit as said Peary may deem suitable 
and necessary, or desirable. 

Third: To pay him when said expedition shall have returned to 
New York, the sum of fifty dollars. 

The said MATTHEW HENSON hereby pledges his word of honor, as a 
gentleman, that each item and particular of his agreement herein con- 
tained, shall be by him faithfully and unqualifiedly observed. 

In witness whereof the said Robert E. Peary and MATTHEW HENSON 
have to this agreement, executed in triplicate, at PHILADELPHIA here- 
unto set their hands and affix their seals to this THIRTIETH day of May 
A.D. 1891. 3 

Henson signed. So did the rest of the expedition, including Dr. 
Frederick Cook. Thus were planted seeds of contention that 
were to germinate slowly through many Arctic winters, and 
come to a bitter and violent fruit eighteen years later. 

[ 30 ] AHDOOLO! 

June 6, 1891, the Kite cast off from the pier at the foot of 
Baltic Street in Brooklyn. She was a small barkentine, a ship 
having three masts, fore, main, and mizzen. The foremast was 
square-rigged and the main and mizzen fore and aft rigged. Coal- 
fired boilers gave her power for a single screw which now 
churned the harbor waters to carry her up the East River while 
other craft whistled their salutes and good wishes. 


During the voyage north Peary held staff meetings in his cabin. 
Though not a member of the staff in a full sense, Henson at- 
tended. He was entered on the ship's papers as "personal servant," 
but there was little valet work on this trip and gradually he 
became the indispensable handyman, the carpenter and tinker 
and caulker and cook. But in the meantime he stood quietly in 
the corner of Peary's cabin and listened and learned while other 
men made the plans. 

Peary tacked a map of Greenland on the bulkhead and it showed 
the lower half of the land extending into the Atlantic Ocean, the 
upper half fading into blankness, into the unknown. It was 
Peary's determination to fill in the northern blankness on that 
map. He alone of the expedition had some idea of what lay 
ahead, for he had at least been to the coast of that bleak and 
mysterious land. In 1886, before going to Nicaragua with Hen- 
son, he had made a brief trip to Greenland, buying his own 
passage on a whaler that dropped him at Godhaven, on Disco 
Island, the capital of the Danish provincial government. 

There he had scraped together what equipment he could, and 
with a young Danish official sailed across the channel to Green- 
land's glacial coast. Dragging their sledges behind them, they 

[ 31 ] 

[ 32 ] AHDOOLO! 

climbed the glacier and made a brief excursion into the interior, 
reaching an elevation of 7,500 feet. A blizzard sent them stagger- 
ing and exhausted back to Disco Island, but Peary was in a state 
of strange elation. He knew beyond doubt that his destiny was 
in the North. 

As the Kite sailed northward past Newfoundland, past 
Labrador, and prepared to cut into the open Atlantic north- 
northeast toward Greenland, Peary lectured his party, preparing 
them for the job ahead. Pointing to the map, he said, "The coast 
is bold and mountainous, cut by deep fjords and protected by 
outlying rocky islands. All there is of land, as we know the 
term, is a ribbon five to twenty-five miles wide along the coast, 
and it is made up of mountains and valleys and deep fjords. The 
interior of the country is buried beneath a great white ice cap. 
We can only guess how it came about. There was probably an 
accumulation of snow that filled the valleys of the interior until 
it leveled them even with the mountain summits, and then through 
the centuries has buried the highest of the mountain summits 
hundreds and even thousands of feet deep. Now the interior of 
Greenland is simply an elevated, unbroken plateau of frozen snow 
eight to ten thousand feet high, a huge, white, glistening shield 
resting on the mountain tops. 

"It is an Arctic Sahara, in comparison with which the African 
Sahara is insignificant. For on this frozen Sahara occurs no form 
of life, animal or vegetable; no fragment of rock, no grain of 
sand. When we get upon it we shall see, except for ourselves, 
nothing but the infinite expanse of frozen plain, the infinite dome 
of the cold blue sky, and the cold white sun. Nothing but these." 

The cabin was quiet, tense, expectant. When Peary spoke 
again there was in his words a forced calm that revealed more than 
anything else could the excitement beneath them. "This plateau, 
this shield, runs northward we know not how far. It may go all 
the way to the Pole. It may become the 'imperial highway to 
the Pole/ " 

There followed general discussion, each man concerned with 
his specialty. Verhoeff, the mineralogist, was hopeful of finding 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 33 ] 

rock specimens along the coast Gibson demanded from Peary 
information about bird life. Astrup led a discussion about the 
comparative merits of snowshoes and skis. Dr. Cook, who had 
been thoughtful, suddenly said, "Lieutenant, we set up our head- 
quarters north of Melville Bay?" 

"Yes, if the ice conditions will let the Kite through that far." 

"No habitation there, I suppose?" 

"No," said Peary. "The Danes live south of 73 degrees north 
latitude. I hope to make 76 or 77 degrees.'* 

"What about the aborigines, the Eskimos?" 

"Yes, there is a tribe there, the most northerly people of the 

"I have my camera with me," Cook said. "If we could make 
contact with them, and then photograph and measure them, we 
could bring back some valuable ethnological information." 

"Quite so," Peary agreed. 

Two people did not enter into the conversation. First, there 
was Mrs. Peary, the newlywed who saw no reason to be separated 
from her husband just because he was headed into an unexplored 
wilderness. She sat quietly and serenely in her silk brocade dress, 
adding a touch of elegance to the sealer's dark and pitching cabin. 
She busied herself with needlework. Matthew Henson merely 
leaned against the bulkhead. He, as yet, had no specialty. 

Only a modest amount of equipment was aboard ship, partly 
because the expedition had limited funds, but also out of igno- 
rance. No one knew what they would face in the North. They 
had tea, coffee, sugar, and milk sufficient to last two years, but 
little meat because they expected to live off game in the area. 
There were two sledges and timber to make additional ones, 
snowshoes, skis, moccasins, rubber ice creepers, and an abundance 
of woolen clothing, much of which was to be found entirely 
unsuited to Arctic work. There was a variety of firearms and 
ammunition, along with navigational, meteorological, and photo- 
graphic equipment. On the forward deck was lashed the lumber 
for a twelve-by-twenty-foot house which was to be constructed 
on the beach and serve as living space and headquarters when the 

[ 34 ] AHDOOLO! 

ship returned south for the winter. Six men and a woman were 
to live in that small space through the unknown terrors of the 
six-month-long Arctic night. 

On June 11, the fifth day out of New York, the Kite steamed 
into Sydney Harbor, Nova Scotia, to take aboard coal. When 
her waist and part of her quarter-deck were piled high with coal, 
she headed north into the Strait of Belle Isle and her first Arctic 
storm. She pitched and dipped and rolled as tons of water poured 
over her and ice began to attack her flanks. The ice thickened 
into a pack and she had to search for leads of open water to take 
her farther north. 

The ice pack rose and fell with the undulations of the sea, and 
it roared with a sound ten times that of any surf. The ship creaked 
and moaned with its own pain, and the members of the expedi- 
tion were violently seasick. Yet the storm was not severe by 
Arctic standards; it was the merest flick of nature's whip. 

Throughout it all Henson, who was a seaman after all, moved 
about the ship with sure step and cheerfully ministered to those 
who, with green faces, clung to their bunks. 

The poorest sailors came out of their bunks, however, when 
Greenland was sighted on the morning of June 23. Cape Desola- 
tion rose out of the sea on the starboard bow and everyone 
crowded to the rails. Soon there was a full view of the coast, the 
inland peak of Kangarsuck, 4,710 feet high, rearing its snow- 
blotched apex to look like a Matterhorn; and next to it the great 
marble wall of the Frederikshaab Glacier, one of the largest in 
the world. 

They moved northward along the coast, making their way 
through the floes with slow and careful maneuvers. Terns and 
auks wheeled overhead to shrill at the invaders, and sleek seals 
looked up from the floes to stare with surprise and then slide 
silently into the black waters. Then Henson saw his first iceberg! 

Greenland produced these wonders of nature. The mass of 
glacial ice moved down the coastal valleys under the pressure of 
gravity, extended into the water until the ice broke off and 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 35 ] 

floated out to sea. About one-ninth of the mass appeared above 
water, but what a sight was that small fragment of the total! 

Out of a hundred fathoms of water the berg towered high 
above the Kite, and it had been shaped by the wind and sun 
into fantastically beautiful cliffs and grottoes. At its base great 
arches had been carved out by the pounding sea and within them 
rainbows streaked the ice with color. The lofty peaks were being 
eroded by the sun, and waterfalls cascaded down and down and 
finally spilled into the sea. 

Henson had been joined at the rail of the Kite by Peary and 
the rest of the members of the expedition and all the crew who 
could safely leave their duties. While they stared in silent wonder, 
they heard a sudden rumble, like the sound of distant drums. 
The rumble grew louder, became a cannonading, a full battle, 
angrier and angrier, culminating in a series of shattering ex- 
plosions. Before their eyes the iceberg began to break up. A part 
of the giant majestically heeled over and slid into the sea. 

There was an enraged hissing and boiling of the water, then an 
enormous wave rose up and began to race toward the Kite. The 
ice pack stood protectively between the wave and the ship, but 
even it could not resist the force of the savage water. As 
tremendous pressure was exerted from beneath, the ice pack 
broke open with a series of thunderclaps. Large pieces of ice 
were thrown in all directions, skidding along the pack surface 
with deafening screams. 

There was a chaos of sound and sight that stunned the senses, 
and those aboard the frail bit of wood and iron could only cling 
to the railing and pray. 

The wave had largely spent itself by the time it reached the 
ship, but even so the Kite rolled violently as the ice broke about 
her and bit savagely at her hull. Men were thrown about the 
deck, staggered to their feet to be thrown again. Fortunately, no 
one went overboard; no one was badly injured. The ship and 
crew survived but with a bleak sort of awareness that they were 
many miles from their goal. 

On Saturday, June 27, the Kite put in at Godhaven, the chief 

[ 36 ] AHDOOLO! 

settlement of the North Inspectorate of Danish Greenland. 
Lieutenant and Mrs. Peary were received and entertained by the 
Inspector and his wife. All the expedition, with the exception of 
Henson, dined with the local officials. After a few days of such 
amenities, the Kite steamed on north and engaged in the long 
straggle with the ice pack in Melville Bay. 

The plan was for the Kite to batter her way through the 
summer ice as far as Inglefield Gulf, 77 degrees north latitude, 
and there put the expedition ashore where they would spend the 
long Arctic winter, letting the ship and her crew retreat south to 
safety. They were almost within sight of their destination when 
an accident occurred that threatened to put an end to the entire 

At eight o'clock on Saturday evening, July 11, Henson was 
leaning on the forward railing, watching the Kite's labors. She 
was ramming a passageway through relatively heavy ice, her 
sharp bow forcing a crack, then backing off to come forward 
again at full speed to widen the crack. The ship bucked and 
rolled, her riggings lashed, dishes and all things loose slid and 

Peary suddenly appeared and stood beside Henson. The two 
of them braced themselves against the ship's thrusts for several 
minutes. Then Matt said, "Not like Nicaragua, is it, sir?" 

"Not much." Peary smiled. Then he looked rather searchingly 
at the Negro and said, "How are you making out, Matt?" 

Immediately Henson knew what was on his mind. Peary had 
always euphemistically called him a "son of the tropics," and was 
doubtful that such a man could function well in the North. No 
slight was intended by the question; it was honest concern. 

"I can see how the North gets into a man," Matt said carefully. 
"Ifs got into me. I feel like I never want to leave it." 

For some moments Peary thought on the answer, words that 
said much or litde, then turned and went aft to observe the ship 
from the stern. Henson didn't turn to watch his going; he kept 
his eyes on the ice ahead. 

The ship made several more lunges, then as she backed off 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 37 ] 

there was a muffled, bumping sound, and her stern swung 
sharply to port. The sound and the movement seemed of no 
particular importance, and for a time Henson continued looking 
ahead, waiting for the ship to return to the attack. When she 
didn't, he looked aft casually and saw the helmsman running 
toward a man who writhed on deck. The man in agony was 

The bump that had gone through the ship was a large cake of 
ice striking the rudder, jamming it hard over and tearing the 
wheel from the hands of the two men on duty. One of them had 
been thrown clear across the deck. The long, heavy iron tiller 
had swept over the afterdeck where Peary was standing and, 
acting like a scythe, brought him down. Both bones of his right 
leg were snapped above the ankle. 

Henson knelt beside his lieutenant to cushion his head. Through 
clenched teeth Peary ordered, "Get Doctor Cook." When Cook 
arrived, he deftly examined the leg and then ordered the men to 
carry Peary to his cabin. Henson, the two helmsmen, and Gibson 
carried the wounded man across the littered deck and down the 
companionway. In his agony Peary uttered not a sound. 

Peary's leg was set and strapped into a narrow wooden box 
Henson built for the purpose. Henson's duties were now expanded 
to that of nursemaid, and along with Mrs. Peary he tended the 
lieutenant through the feverish, pain-racked days and nights 
that immediately followed. 

Everyone on the expedition agreed that they would now have 
to turn around and go home. Everyone but Peary. When the idea 
was first broached to him, he angrily brushed it aside. Finally 
Cook stepped forward with his opinion as a doctor. 

"It's going to be difficult enough for a man to survive the 
winter up here in good health," Cook said, "but with a broken 
leg . . ." 

Peary interrupted him, demanding briskly, "How long before 
I can walk on this leg, Doctor?" 

Cook shrugged. "Four or five months, perhaps. Depends." 

After rapid calculation, Peary said, "That will be into next 

[ 38 ] AHDOOLO! 

year. I'll be ready, then, to make the spring march onto the ice 

"Perhaps so, if you survive." 

"I'll survive, Doctor." 

"But when we arrive at Inglefield Gulf, you won't even be able 
to get ashore." 

'Til have my men strap me on a board and carry me ashore." 

"And then what?" Cook demanded. 

"Before too many weeks I'll have Henson make me some 

"You plan to travel on crutches ... on the ice?" Cook was 

"On the ice," Peary said firmly. "I'm sorry to ignore your 
advice, Doctor, but people invested a lot of money in this ex- 
pedition and my first responsibility is to them. For no reason of 
my own health will I turn back." 

When the Kite arrived at Inglefield Gulf in late July, they 
found it choked with an impenetrable ice pack, but just north 
of it was McCormick Bay, a small inlet at the foot of a towering, 
red, lichen-covered cliff. At the head of the bay was a glacier 
which seemed to promise access to the ice cap above. Peary, 
reclining on deck and with his leg packed in the wooden box, 
studied the shore and determined that the winter headquarters 
should be here. 

The Kite was driven against the ice foot that extended from 
land about fifty yards, and upon this supplies were unloaded and 
dragged ashore. Strapped to a large plank and carried by Henson 
and three sailors, Peary was first over the side. Then went the 
food and weapons and expedition equipment, and finally the 
lumber for the house that would shelter them. It had been precut 
and had only to be erected and nailed together, but that was an 
enormous job for one man. And generally it was one man who 
did it Henson. 

Cook, Gibson, Astrup, and Verhoeff were, after all, unpaid 
volunteers, and while they submitted to discipline (often grudg- 
)* Henson was the servant and he submitted automatically. 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 39 ] 

The interior dimensions of the building were twenty-one feet 
by twelve feet. A good third of this had to be partitioned off as 
private quarters for the lieutenant and his wife. The outside was 
an airtight shell composed of sheathing and closely fitted boards 
and two thicknesses of tarred paper. The inner shell was com- 
posed of thick trunk boards and heavy brown paper. And inside 
this, Indian blankets covered the walls and floor. It gave the place 
a sort of oriental atmosphere. 

Around the outside of the entire house, about three feet away, 
was built a five-foot-high wall of supply boxes. This was roofed 
over with canvas. Thus, when the winter snows came and covered 
everything, it would be possible to step out of the house and 
into a tunnel lined with supply boxes full of food and fuel. When 
the structure was completed it was named Red Cliff House. 

At 5:30 A.M. on July 30 the Kite gave a whistle and her crew 
stood along the railing to wave good-by to the small band that 
stood on shore. Now, for good or ill, six men and a woman were 
committed to the coming Arctic night. 

While Peary fretted at his infirmity, the rest of the expedition 
were excitedly exploring the countryside, bringing back new 
specimens of flowers and rocks, hunting reindeer, foxes, and the 
white Arctic hare. And shortly after the second week had begun 
Gibson and Verhoeff came back with a load of decaying, gelat- 
inous substance that could be smelled a hundred yards off. 
Everyone gathered around excitedly, for this was whale meat and 
blubber. It had been found in a cache nearby, and this meant 
there were Eskimos some place in the area. Remembering Peary's 
promise to let him take ethnological measurements and pictures, 
Dr. Cook was particularly excited and asked that he be permitted 
to go on an expedition to find the Eskimos. Peary could have said 
only the word "yes," but his habit was military and he put his 
orders in writing: 

Dr. F. A. Cook, Surgeon and Ethnologist. Sir: You will be second 
in command of the boat expedition to Herbert, Northumberland, 
and Haklayt Islands, and, in event of serious accident to Mr. Gibson, 
will assume the command. During the absence of the expedition you 

t 40 ] AHDOOLO! 

will note carefully the location of all Eskimo houses and villages on 
the shores visited, and will take full descriptive notes of them, mode 
of construction, size, material, etc. Should you find natives, you will 
endeavor to obtain from them reindeer, and bear, and blue fox 
skins, and especially kamiks.* You will endeavor to make the natives 
understand the location of the house and the fact that they can find 
there desirable articles in exchange for their furs and implements. If 
practicable, induce a man and woman, possessors of a kayak and 
accessories, to return with you and settle for the winter near the 
house. If you do not succeed in this you may be able to bring a man 
with his kayak back with you. As an inducement you can perhaps 
convey to him the idea of his having a gun to use. R. E. Peary, U.S.N. 
Commanding Expedition. 4 

The expedition, with Gibson, Astrup, Cook, and Verhoeff, took 
the whaleboat Faith (previously removed from the Kite) and 
were off to the islands on August 12, leaving Henson to complete 
Red CM House, Mrs. Peary to arrange its furnishing, and Peary 
to shoot game from a sitting position on the shore. Six days later 
the tiny sail on the whaleboat hove into view and Peary, assisted 
by Henson, hobbled to welcome it, and to his great delight found 
an Eskimo family aboard. They had come, with their worldly 
belongings, to camp outside Red Cliff House through the winter. 

They jumped ashore eagerly and made directly for Mrs. 
Peary. They had never seen a white woman and they slowly 
circled her. They were short, hardly coming to Mrs. Peary's 
shoulder, and they looked up with gathering amusement in their 
black eyes. They began to giggle. They pointed to the carefully 
braided hair piled high on Mrs. Peary's head, and to the fashion- 
able hat that surmounted that; they pointed to the leg-of-mutton 
sleeves, to the closely fitted bodice in front and the bustle that 
projected behind; and suddenly it was just all too funny and they 
roared with laughter. They rolled on the ground and slapped 
their sides and gasped for breath. 

Slowly they recovered, took a fresh look, and went into an- 
other seizure. They found this tall, stately woman, the personifica- 

* Eskimo for boots. 

The Biography of Matthew A. Benson C 41 ] 

tion of nineteenth-century civilization and culture, ludicrous 
beyond anything they had seen. Mrs. Peary endured it all with 
composure, her husband with stiff dignity. Peary knew that the 
two rolling and howling Eskimos did not mean to be offensive, 
but he was slightly offended just the same. 

When Ikwah and his wife had finally laughed themselves out, 
they saw Henson standing a bit apart and now made for him, 
circled him, and talked to each other excitedly. They did not 
laugh this time, but they smiled and made gestures that no one 
could interpret. Finally, Ikwah grabbed Henson by the arm, pulled 
up his sleeve, and held Henson's arm next to his own. The skin 
colors were almost the same. 

"Innuit . . . InnuitI" Ikwah said again and again with a big 
grin on his face. 

Ikwah was from the Smith Sound tribe, but all Eskimos 
called themselves Innuit, which meant inner self, the spirit, the 
soul. He had mistaken Henson for another Eskimo. It was all 
logical, to his simple mind. The only men he had ever seen outside 
his tribe were "kabloonas," the white men who had brought him 
here in the whaleboat. He reasoned that the world must be 
populated by Eskimos and white men. Henson was obviously not 
a white man; therefore he must be an Eskimo. He must be a 

When Henson finally understood what Ikwah was trying to 
say, he laughed and threw his arms around the little Eskimo. With 
that embrace there began the legend about Miy Paluk, the name 
the Eskimos gave the man who was a Negro in all eyes but theirs. 


News of the encampment of white men soon reached back to the 
rest of the Smith Sound tribe of Eskimos and other families began 
to arrive. Peary put the Eskimo women to work making fur 
garments for the expedition, and he sent the Eskimo men on 
hunting expeditions; and throughout it all Eskimo and white men 
studied each other with mutual amazement. 

Dr. Cook undertook his ethnological studies, and as each new 
Eskimo arrived, he or she was taken into warm Red Cliff House 
and urged to remove all clothing so that Cook could take photo- 
graphs and record bodily measurements. There was no false 
modesty among the Eskimos, in fact, no modesty at all, but it 
did seem to them a strange procedure. They submitted with good 
humor, as they did to all of the white men's crazinesses. 

These Innuit Eskimos had strikingly Mongolian features, and 
the theory of their presence in this northland is based upon this 
oriental characteristic. These people are believed to be the rem- 
nants of an ancient Siberian tribe that was driven from their home 
out onto the Arctic Ocean by the fierce Tartar invasion in the 
Middle Ages. They gradually moved eastward to drift down the 
Northern Greenland Archipelago and settle along the shores of 
Smith Sound. The tribe was found to number 253. They were 

[ 42 ] 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 43 ] 

the most northerly race in the world, living in complete isolation 
and independence in a most savage environment. They could have 
stepped right out of the Stone Age. 

They had no government, no religion, no money or standard 
of value, no written language, no property except their dogs and 
weapons; their food was nothing but meat, blood, and blubber, 
and their clothing was the skins of birds and animals. Their con- 
stant occupation in life was to capture enough birds and animals 
to feed and clothe themselves. 

And there were a few more things they lacked: they had no 
jealousies, no intoxicants, no infectious diseases, no murders, no 
cops or courts, no soldiers, no wars. These shortcomings would 
place them at the bottom of the scale of civilization, but they 
were completely indifferent to this because they had no concep- 
tion of the outside world. They were a simple, happy people 
who were quick, intelligent, ingenious, and thoroughly human. 

One more thing must be said about them: they had no de- 
odorantsno roll-on, no spray-on, no rub-on and they smelled. 
Their first impact on the Peary expedition was that of the 
persistent, everlasting smell. The source was their diet of seal and 
pure essence of blubber. This bouquet was spiced up a bit by an 
admixture of walrus, narwhal, and polar bear. With the exception 
of Mrs. Peary, the expedition soon became accustomed to the 
smell, grew even not to notice it. 

Peary paid for the Eskimo services with food, knives, needles 
and thread, guns and ammunition. He established, from the 
beginning, a reputation for honest dealing and the meticulous 
keeping of his word. The Eskimos called him Pearyaksoah, which 
meant Big Peary. This was a compliment, a measure of their 
respect, and from it one might think that their primary interest 
was in this man who was so big and so different from them in so 
many ways. But no, their overwhelming interest was in Henson, 
a man more like themselves. Ikwah and his friend, Ahnalka, took 
it upon themselves to teach Henson the Eskimo language, one of 
the most difficult in the world. 

Moravian missionaries have spent thirty and even forty years 

[ 44 ] AHDOOLO! 

with Eskimos without fully mastering the language. Latin, Greek, 
French, and German are comparatively easy beside Eskimo. In 
the process of writing an Eskimo dictionary for the armed forces 
during World War II, Admiral Donald MacMillan arranged 
alphabetically and spelled phonetically 3,037 words and admitted 
there were more to be added. 

Each Eskimo word is exact, decisive, fully expressive. Where 
the English language might require an entire sentence to explain 
something, the Eskimos do it with a single word. Henson, the least 
educated of all the men on the expedition, became the most pro- 
ficient in this difficult language. But then, he got more tutoring 
than anyone else. His new friends were deliriously happy each 
time he mastered a new phrase, and they always prepared a suit- 
able celebration. 

One afternoon Ikwah came up to him and demanded, "JFC#r- 
ket?" (Are you hungry?) 

Henson thought a moment and answered, "Kark-punga" (I 
am hungry.) 

"Nerri-katti-giniar-pittigirt?" demanded Ikwah. (Will you eat 
with us?) 

Henson replied, "Nerri-katti-giniar pagit" (I will eat with 

Ikwah laughed and clapped his hands together in pleasure, 
then grabbed Henson by the arm to lead him to the family igloo. 
This had not been just a language lesson but a formal invitation 
to dinner. 

The Eskimos, when first arriving at Red Cliff House, had lived 
in their tupiks (skin tents), but now with winter approaching 
Ikwah and his wife had constructed their stone igloo. It was a 
structure half excavated beneath and half built above the ground 
surface and covered an area of twelve by fourteen feet. The walls 
were built of stone and sod and, using the cantilever principle, 
massive stones covered over the roof. A stone tunnel gave en- 
trance, and though it was never closed it was so skillfully con- 
structed that no draft or current of air disturbed the quiet 


The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 45 ] 

Just inside the entrance was a small area of standing room, and 
on either side were alcoves for the storage of meat and stone 
lamps. On the far end was a raised platform made of flat stones 
and covered with furs, the family bed. A single small window of 
seal intestines over the entrance admitted a little light. 

Henson crawled through the tunnel, and when he stood erect 
he faced not just Ikwah's family but several others who had come 
for the occasion. Body heat had driven the temperature upward 
and everyone was stripped to the waist. 

Remembering his manners, Henson cried, "Sainak sunai! Sainak 
sunai!" (Wonderful pleasure and happy to be here.) 

The circle of brown faces cried back, "Assukiak, assukiak!" 
(The same with us, you are right.) Then everyone laughed and 
laughed, for no reason other than good health and love. 

This was to be a feast of a very special delicacy Giviaq, little 
auk birds pickled in oil. What made it so special was not only 
the flavor, but the long and painstaking care in its preparation. 
In the spring a hunter kills a seal and skins it through the mouth 
without puncturing any of the skin. Not every hunter can do 
this, and even the most skillful hunter can't do it every time. But 
when it is accomplished there is created a magnificent poke with 
the seal blubber clinging to the inside. The hunter takes this 
poke to the cliffs where the auks nest, catches them in nets, and 
stuffs them into his poke until it is full up. He ties the opening 
with a rawhide thong, then buries it under stones. Through the 
long summer the blubber turns to oil and soaks the birds, which 
slowly decompose. When winter comes the whole thing freezes 
and can be kept outside the igloo to be available for special 

When Henson entered the igloo, there lay the partially thawed 
and distended sealskin. After the greetings had been said, Ikwah 
chopped open the poke to reveal the birds. Demonstrating the 
method of eating them for Henson, he removed one and began 
to pluck the feathers which, over the summer, had turned from 
white to pink. They pulled out easily, and when the small bird 
was quite naked, he bit off the legs and chewed them down. Then, 

[ 46 ] AHDOOLO! 

with a deft twist of the wrist, he removed the skin from the 
bill backwards, turned it inside out, and sucked off the fat. Then 
he ate the skin. Now at last the meat of the bird was eaten. Ikwah 
handed a second bird to Henson. 

Matt did his best to follow the ritual. He was not as skillful as 
his host, but it was a passable performance and the assembly laughed 
and clapped their hands. Now everyone dug into the poke. And 
when it was finally empty they searched with their fingers among 
the remains for the viscera, especially the chunks of frozen blood. 
Once able to divorce his mind from the anatomy of the meal, 
Henson found it all quite delicious. 

"Nak-ko-mek, nak-ko-mek (thanks)," he murmured, too full 
to be able to speak aloud. 

But food was just the beginning of the celebration; now there 
was to be music or what the Eskimos considered music. Their 
culture had not advanced far in this direction, as was soon ap- 
parent. Their sole instrument was the ayayut, a drum made of 
the skin of a walrus throat stretched over a round frame of bone 
to which a handle was attached. It was beaten with a piece of 
bone to set the tempo in accompaniment of the human voice. 

Everyone present knew that Ahnalka was considered a good 
singer and would be the man to perform now. Still, there was an 
elaborate ritual that had to be followed before he would begin. 
He had to appear modest and reluctant and only finally consent 
under the great pressure of all present. The dialogue that pre- 
ceded the singing was so standard as to be almost a stylized part 
of the performance. 

Ikwah began it by saying, "Ahnalka, it would give us pleasure 
if you would sing tonight." 

"No," Ahnalka replied, "I do not feel like singing tonight." 

"But you are one of the best singers." 

"I am nothing. I do not know how to sing. Besides, I am not 
in the mood. No man can be made to sing when he does not 
feel like it." 

Henson did not follow the dialogue completely but he saw the 
firm and final rejection on Ahnalka's part and he thought this 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 47 ] 

was surely the end. But instead, Ikwah pulled out a drum from 
under the bed furs, tightened the skin on it by licking it with 
his tongue, then handed it to Ahnalka. 

"Why do you give it to me?" Ahnalka cried. "I do not know 
how to sing. No one would want to hear me. I am terrible." 

Immediately they all shouted their belief in Ahnalka's skill and 
their determination to hear him sing just one really fine song. 
"Q#? %*>" th e y cried, "come on. We are all so happy to have a 
really fine singer in our midst." 

Ahnalka frowned at the drum in his hands, acting as if every- 
one had lost his senses. Then, with the greatest reluctance, he 
agreed to sing. But now he announced that of course he couldn't 
perform alone, his voice was too poor for that, Ikwah would 
have to join him. 

The same procedure was repeated, this time Ikwah refusing, 
saying how poor he was, and the rest of them assuring him he 
was excellent. Finally he, too, agreed to perform. Now followed 
an interminable argument between the two as to who was to 
sing and who play the ayayut. At last it was decided that Ahnalka 
should sing and Ikwah play the drum. The negotiations had con- 
sumed a half hour. 

Ahnalka now stood up and took his position in the middle of 
the circle of eager brown faces. All light but a single candle was 
extinguished. The drum began the rhythm, a triple beat boom, 
boom, boom. The seated bodies began to sway. Ahnalka began 
to sing. An almost tuneless chant slowly developed a charge of 
emotion. As he sang he swayed to the rhythm, but never moved 
his feet. He began to make horrible faces and horrible sounds to 
match; no recognizable words came out of his mouth, just wails 
and grunts and cries. The circle of spectators, now under his 
spell, began to join in with their own chant and the drum grew 
louder. Now the whole audience was possessed by the song, 
emotions mounting to a frightening pitch. 

There was a formalized way of ending the song. To discharge 
the mass emotions, Ahnalka would be required to clown, to create 

[ 48 ] AHDOOLO! 

laughter. He began to bend toward Ikwah, the drummer. Ikwah 
diminished the beat, finally giving it up entirely. Gripping the 
bone drumstick, he brandished it before Ahnalka's nose. At this 
gesture Ahnalka took up a long wail, "Ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, ay!" 
Ikwah joined him, matching the vowels with all his lung power. 
The two men screamed until they were exhausted and both fell 
back in laughter. Relieved, the audience now broke into laughter 
too, and the song was ended. 

Suddenly, to everyone's amazement and delight, Henson an* 
nounced he would sing. He stood up, and all eyes expected to 
see him take the traditional place in the middle of the circle and 
sway and chant to the beat of the drum, but instead he walked 
over to the storage platform by the entrance tunnel and reached 
for the duffel bag he had inconspicuously placed there when 
entering. From the bag he removed his battered concertina and 
then resumed his place in the circle. Everyone crowded around 
to look at and touch the strange thing he held. And when he 
played a series of notes, there was a gasp of astonishment. 

Their amazed chattering stilled when Henson began to sing 
and accompany himself. He sang the only songs he knew, the 
hymns he had learned as a child aboard the Katie Hines. He sang 
"The Old Rugged Cross," "Rock of Ages," and finally "In the 
Garden." His baritone voice filled the rock igloo with words and 
music meaningless to his audience, and yet they responded to the 
sweetness of die sound. He sang: 

I walk in the garden alone, 

When the dew is sweet on the roses. 

And the voice I hear 

Ringing in my ear, 

The Son of God discloses. 

And ... I walk with Him 

And I talk with Him, 

And He tells me I am His own. 

And the joys we share 

As we tarry there, 

None other has ever known. 

The Biography of Matthew A. Benson [ 49 ] 

Verhoeff and Gibson, returning from a hunting trip, happened 
by Ikwah's igloo at this moment. They stood outside the stone 
tunnel to listen to Henson's voice drift out into the crisp Arctic 
night, sounds such as this air had never before carried. 

Verhoeff said with a wink, "I thought Matt had gone native 
but I guess I was wrong. He's in there trying to convert the 

He was wrong again. Throughout his life Henson found the 
Eskimos quite wonderful just the way they were. 


As the Arctic night approached, Peary sent out Astrup, Cook, 
Gibson, and Verhoeff to practice sledging and skiing and snow- 
shoeing on the ice cap, and to lay down caches of food supplies 
to be used during the explorations the following spring. Henson's 
duties were pretty much confined to the house and camp. He 
was cook and housekeeper and general handyman, a servant in- 
stead of a full member of the expedition. 

This was what he had expected, as he had hired himself out, 
and if he had ambitions to be something more, he did not express 
them. He was the efficient and smiling "boy," always at Mrs. 
Peary's elbow when she needed him. 

Though Red Cliff House was in savage country, Mrs. Peary 
was determined to make it an outpost of civilization, determined 
that the men would not forget their manners. Hers was the 
attitude of the British Colonial who never surrenders his tea at 
four and always dresses for dinner at eight. She could not carry 
things that far, of course, but she did demand that the men be 
shaved at dinner, that they watch their language, that they gen- 
erally behave themselves as gentlemen. This was to cause some 
tensions and resentments as the Arctic night drew on, but she 
was a strong-willed woman and thought she knew what was best 

[ 50 ] 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 51 ] 

for morale. Certainly she knew what was best for her morale. 
Hardly more than a bride, a woman of culture and position, she 
was dropped into a place of primitive hardships such as few 
women of her class had known. She faced up to it in her own 
way, and whatever else, it was a brave way. 

As part of the regimen of civilization and manners, she an- 
nounced that each man's birthday would be observed with a 
proper dinner, served with the proper wine. The man to be so 
honored could choose his own menu from the supplies available 
and from the game that could be killed. The first birthday that 
arrived in August was Matt Henson's. 

Matt chose the menu and Mrs. Peary cheerfully cooked it. It 
was: mock-turtle soup, stew of little auk with green peas, broiled 
breasts of eider duck, Boston baked beans, corn, tomatoes, apricot 
pie, plum duff, sliced peaches, brandy and coffee. 

Matt sat at the head of the table in the place of honor; all 
toasted him and sang "Happy Birthday." Peary entered in his 
journal the fact that they had given the party for "my loyal 
colored boy." The aristocratic Mrs. Peary carried it through 
with spirit. 

After the meal had ended Mrs. Peary proposed that some 
sweets be given to the "pickaninnies." She meant the Eskimo 
children living in the igloos surrounding Red Cliff House. She 
was using the language of the times and certainly Henson was 
not offended. She was unconsciously accepting the Eskimo point 
of view that Henson was their brother. 

The Arctic night was from September to February and it 
was a time of trial for those living in the confined quarters of 
Red Cliff House. The long months of darkness and storms created 
stresses that only the most sanguine (or most disciplined) of men 
could endure without fears for their own sanity. The leader and 
the servant of this expedition were the two men who found the 
least terror in the night. Peary was so full of plans and respon- 
sibilities for the coming spring that he saw the winter as only a 
hindrance. Henson was deeply involved with the Eskimos and 
was sharing their therapy of games and laughter. 

[ 52 ] AHDOOLO! 

The other members of the expedition, Cook, Astrup, Gibson, 
and Verhoeff, responded variously according to temperament, 
but all with apprehensions. The fact that Peary and his wife had 
private quarters within the house was sufficient in Dr. Cook's 
eyes to create plots and counterplots. In his unpublished journal 
he even stated suspicions of Henson: "Serving as camp cook and 
general servant to Peary and his wife, he [Henson] had not 
much time to go astray. He was impulsive and unwise in his 
remarks. Coming to the men he would carry tales from the inner 
quarters, and we figured that he would do the same from our 
campfires. Henson was believed to be a secret service messenger 
of the grapevine order and he suffered from this suspicion." 5 And 
kter he wrote, "There was mutiny in the air." 

Cook, a man of well-known imagination, overstated the case, 
but certainly there was tension that winter. And only Henson 
could escape into the Eskimo igloos and ignore the white men's 
suspicion of each other. 

There was beauty to behold that fall and winter. First came 
the awesome auroras, ghostly and shimmering veils of colored 
light that hung in the sky. They are caused by atomic particles 
ejected by the sun and entering the earth's atmosphere near the 
magnetic pole. When they collide with particles of nitrogen and 
oxygen they glow in weird beauty. The colors of the lights 
depend on the altitude of the collision and the wave length of 
the particles involved. Collisions 600 miles up create luminous 
sheets of blue; those from 50 to 175 miles up produce yellow and 
green coronas. In the lower levels the auroras take on the forms 
of vast waterfalls and celestial arches and grottoes. The light of 
the more brilliant ones can be seen as far south as Mexico City, 
but for our explorers, it was so close as to drape the shoulders 
and dazzle the eyes. 

When fall passed so did the aurora, replaced by the crashing 
darkness which alternated with frozen moonlight. Henson heard 
the fettered sea cry beneath its crust of ice. He marched to the 
feet of the savage black cliffs, the shattered bones of earth's 
primeval skeleton, all of it caught in devilish splendor. 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 53 ] 

The Eskimos knew when the moon would appear, never 
missing by a day. They could tell by the dimming of the stars 
and the disappearance of those of fifth and sixth magnitude. They 
considered the stars the spirits of their ancestors* The Big Dipper 
was, they explained to Henson, seven reindeer feeding on the 
hills of heaven. The Pleiades, the Seven Sisters, were a team of 
dogs in pursuit of a bear. The three stars in Orion's Belt were 
three steps cut in the face of a celestial glacier. To them heaven 
was not a better place than earth, not a place of justice and 
reward, but more of what existed here on earth. 

Thus, when a man died, his hunting outfit was buried with 
him, and his dogs strangled so they might join him in future 
hunts. When a woman died, she was buried with cooking pots. 
The Eskimos were quite content with life on earth and could 
think of nothing much better in the hereafter, with one excep- 
tionin the hereafter they would be free of the evil spirits that 
plagued them on earth. 

Tornarsuit were the evil spirits of the North, and the greatest 
of these, the Devil, was Torngak. He was the moaning of the 
wind and the cry of the sea ice. He would stand outside an igloo 
for hours, listening, always listening. He must from time to time 
be driven away with shouts and brandishing of harpoons. He 
presses most closely upon a man when he is far from home, and 
when it is dark and cold. 

Henson was introduced to the intimacies of family life. He 
learned that the husband is the ruler, in fact the dictator, of the 
household. The wife is completely subservient, to the point almost 
of chattel. She undertakes no tasks her husband does not direct, 
and refuses none he has determined upon. A husband may, as a 
gesture of generosity and friendship, offer his wife to a neighbor 
or visitor for the night. She would not think of objecting to such 
an arrangement. And if a child results from such generosity, the 
husband happily undertakes its support. There were not many 
Eskimo children born, and those who did survive were loved and 
pampered by all. And besides, the husband may have some chil- 

[ 54 ] AHDOOLO! 

dren of his own being born and cared for in neighboring igloos. 
It all worked out pretty even. 

The arrival of the Peary expedition resulted, inevitably, in 
some complications. A week after Ikwah and his family had set 
up housekeeping outside Red Cliff House, the Eskimo looked 
Mrs. Peary over with a speculative eye and suggested to Peary 
that they swap wives for the night. Peary refused and Ikwah 
went away bewildered and offended. Peary and Henson went to 
considerable lengths to explain to Ikwah that no offense was 
intended; it just was the white man's custom not to swap wives. 
The Eskimo was amazed at the strange custom. 

A more serious incident occurred during the winter night. 
The various Eskimo men had, in return for knives and guns, 
hired out their wives as servants to members of the expedition. 
The women were hired primarily as seamstresses, making the fur 
winter garments to be used on the trail. Astrup's servant was the 
extremely young wife of the Eskimo named Qolugtinguaq. 

Astrup, nerves strung tight because of the gloom and the 
storms of the long night, began to demand excessive service from 
the young girl, and one afternoon when she didn't come quickly 
at his call, he crossed the room of Red Cliff House and slapped 
her in the face. Shock and tears followed, and she ran out of 
the house and to her husband in her own igloo. 

Peary spoke sternly to Astrup about the incident, not only 
because he objected to the physical violence but also because he 
feared such happenings would jeopardize their relationship with 
the Eskimos. For a few days the members of the expedition 
watched carefully for any signs of resentment by Qolugtinguaq, 
the husband, but there was none. The incident passed and was 
apparently forgotten. 

Only Henson, of all the expedition, learned that Astrup had 
put the husband in a cruel dilemma. One evening in Qolug- 
tinguaq's igloo the conversation got around to Astrup, and Hen- 
son asked, "How did it happen that you allowed that to pass? 
You might have at least complained to Pearyaksoah." 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 55 ] 

Qolugringuaq said quickly, "You do not understand, Miy 

"I hoped you could make me understand," Henson said. 

"My wife is a child. A man who gets angry with a mere child 
is not worth bothering with." 

Henson recognized the Eskimo logic in this, but he suspected 
there was something more. Qolugtinguaq frowned at his boots, 
and finally spoke his real problem. "If I had objected to Astrup 
striking my wife, I would have revealed how devoted to her I 
am, how much I depend upon her, and that would have made 
me ridiculous before all men." 

"Tukki-si-vunga (I understand)," Henson said softly. 

Qolugringuaq flashed him a grateful smile, now convinced 
more than ever that Henson must be some sort of Eskimo. 

During the long night the members of the expedition knew 
work as well as quarrels. The most important of all lessons was 
the mastery and use of the Eskimo dog. Aside from man, the dog 
was the sole motive power available, and Peary would have to 
depend upon dogs to get him across the ice cap and back again. 

These magnificent animals, descendants of the Arctic wolf, 
can do more work on less food than any animal in the world. A 
month-old puppy is hardy enough to stand the coldest weather 
in the open. 

The Eskimo dogs come in a variety of markings and colors: 
gray, black, yellow, brown, and mottled, but the pure-blooded 
types have pointed muzzles, sharp-pointed ears, wide-set eyes, 
a shabby coat and bushy tail, and are marked like their ancestors, 
the Arctic white wolf. 

The Eskimos sold their dogs and sledges to the expedition and 
gave lessons in their use. To handle these half -wild creatures re- 
quired skill and strength and courage. Not at all to the Eskimos' 
surprise, Henson was the most apt pupil they had. He loved the 
dogs, to begin with, but on top of that he didn't fear them or fear 
to discipline them. He had a true Eskimo's approach, and he was 
soon as skilled as any man in the tribe. 

[ 56 ] AHDOOLO! 

Henson wrote of these animals: 

The dogs are ever interesting. They never bark, and often bite, but 
there is no danger from their bites. To get together a team that has 
not been tied down the night before is a job. You take a piece of 
meat, frozen as stiff as a piece of iron, in one hand, and the harness 
in the other, you single out the cur you are after, make proper 
advances, and when he comes sniffling and snuffling and all the time 
keeping at a safe distance, you drop the sheet iron on the snow and 
the brute makes a dive, and you make a flop, you grab the nearest 
thing grabbable ear, leg, or bunch of hair and do your best to catch 
his throat, after which, everything is easy. Slip the harness over the 
head, push the f orepaws through, and there you are, one dog hooked 
up and harnessed. After licking the bites and sucking the blood, you 
tie said dog to a rock and start for the next one. It is only a question 
of time before you have your team. 

When you have them, leave them alone; they must now decide 
who is fit to be king of the team, and so they fight, they fight and 
fight; and once they have decided, the king is king. A growl from 
bin, or only a look, is enough, all obey. 6 

Getting the dogs hitched up was only the beginning of the 
job. The hardest was yet to come driving them. The Eskimos 
hitched up their dogs on long rawhide thongs in a fan-shaped 
formation. And when eight to twelve dogs begin each to go his 
own way, chaos can result. Direction was achieved only with 
the mastery of the thirty-foot whip. It was not the pain of the 
lash that controlled the dogs, but lie dogs' knowledge that pain 
could be inflicted at any moment. 

The whip was twenty-eight feet of rawhide sealskin on a two- 
foot wooden or bone handle. Snapping it was much like casting 
a fly, but with the speed increased many-fold. The motion was 
from the elbow, with a quick snap of the wrist, and the final, 
bulledike explosion had to occur just above the king dog's ear. 
At the same time the whip was being cracked, the driver had 
to grasp the upright handles of the sledge to guide and control it. 

Ikwah and Ahnalka were again Henson's tutors, taking him 
out on the trail day after day. The first effort was inauspicious. 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 57 ] 

Matt took his place behind the sledge, grasped whip in hand, 
cried out, "Huk . . . huk," and waited for action. Then he 
snapped the whip and showered the dogs with snow. As he 
slashed about them, the dogs wagged their tails and sat down to 
observe his antics. He cracked the whip again, this time striking 
Ikwah. Grimly, he gripped the whip handle and lashed out with 
it again. This time the whip wrapped around his own legs and he 
fell down. Ikwah and Ahnalka rolled on the snow with him, help- 
less with laughter. 

Within a month, however, Henson was handling a team by 
himself; by the end of the winter he was almost as good as 
Ikwah and Ahnalka. He was far better than Peary or any other 
member of the expedition. But he was not to go on the ice cap. 
When spring arrived he stayed back at Red Cliff House as servant 
and companion to Mrs. Peary. 


Daylight returned with March and the expedition stepped up 
preparations for the crossing of the great ice cap from western 
shore to eastern shore and return. Activity brought release from 
the tensions of the long night and every man threw himself into 
the work of preparing the equipment. But now a new suspense 
took over who would go and who would be left behind? 

Peary had let it be known that he considered a small party 
essential to the success of the long march, and he would take only 
one man beside himself. Which man? Henson, having been lov- 
ingly trained by the Eskimos, was the best dogteam driver. This 
would seem to make him a prime candidate, at least in the 
Eskimos' eyes. 

Henson's friends and tutors, Ikwah and Ahnalka, summoned 
him one day and with worried faces led him to a place where 
they could talk without being overheard. 

"Are you going with Pearyaksoah up there?" Ikwah demanded, 
pointing up the cliffs toward the ice cap. 

"I don't know," Henson said. "He hasn't said." 

"Nangia-na-to-voq (it is dangerous)," Ahnalka burst out. 

"Pearyaksoah is well prepared," Henson said. 

"No one can be prepared for Kokoyah. He is the devil of the 
ice cap and he devours all men who come into his place." 

The Biography of Matthew. A. Henson [ 59 ] 

Henson said, "Erk-siniar-nak (I am not afraid)." 

"Miy Paluk," Ikwah said, putting his hand on Henson's arm, 
"it is not a question of courage, but of wisdom. We Innuits know 
about the terrible appetite of the devil. You are our brother, so 
you must also know." 

Henson made no answer, for he could think of none. He 
yvanted very much to make the trip with Peary, but he had little 
real hope of it and he didn't wish to appear ungrateful to his 
friends for their warning. 

The following day Peary summoned him to his private quar- 
ters. There was a desk and a bookcase and a curtain to shield 
the corner bed from the office. Maps of the known land area 
were spread out and Peary had marked the course of his proposed 
trip. Once on the ice cap above McCormick Bay he planned to 
march northeast to the eastern shore of Greenland. 

Swinging away from his desk, Peary said, "Matt, we should 
be under way by the end of April. I plan to send Cook, Gibson, 
and Astrup on ahead to make caches of food and establish the 
advance base. You and I will follow a week later and rendezvous 
with them." 

Henson's heart leaped up. He was going. 

"From the advance camp," Peary continued, "Astrup and I 
will make the march across the ice cap and the rest of you will 
return here to Red CM House." 

Henson's heart fell. 

"Your job will be to take care of Mrs. Peary. She will naturally 
be worried. Keep her spirits up and see no accident befalls her." 

Not until this moment did Henson realize how desperately 
he had wanted to go. All the winter months while he had worked 
to master the dogteams he had told himself it was for fun and 
exercise, but now, in the bitterness of his disappointment, he 
knew it had been to win himself a chance at the trail. He was 
back where he had started, a servant. With a mental shrug of 
the shoulders and an inward wry smile, he thought that one 
good would come of it. Ikwah and Ahnalka could now stop 
worrying about him. 

[ 60 ] AHDOOLO! 

On April 30 the advance party hitched up their sledges, 
laboriously climbed the cliff and glacier, and disappeared. On 
May 3 Peary and Henson harnessed up and followed. The ice 
they climbed was treacherous, for where it projected down the 
valley in a long tongue it touched the warming rocks of each 
side and melted away to leave deep canyons filled with water. 
The upper surface of the glacier had begun to disintegrate under 
the reflected heat of the mountains above and, shattered by daily 
changes of temperature, had become a chaotic labyrinth of 
crevasses, gullies, and pinnacles. There had recently been drifts 
of fine, hard snow that extended like a causeway from ice to 
rock, covering the treacherous gorges beneath. 

Henson broke trail, crying, "Huk . . . huk!" to his dogs, 
snapping the long whip above the king dog's ear, pushing and 
wrestling his sledge upward over the rocks and onto the glacier. 
He came to one of the causeways and moved gingerly onto it. 
Some ice broke beneath his feet and plummeted down to crash 
echoingly on the jagged rocks below. He thought of Kokoyah, 
for surely it sounded like the devil's teeth grinding as he waited 
for him to fall. "Huk . . . huk!" he cried to his team and pushed 
against the sledge with all his strength. They slid off the cause- 
way and up onto the crest of the dammed-up glacier where the 
ice lay smoother against the rocks, with less melting. 

Now he came to a succession of rounded hummocks, steepest 
and highest on their land side. Surmounting these, he found 
the hummocks merging into long swells, slowly flattening as 
they reached higher toward the interior. By the end of the 
morning he was on a gently rising plane, and that afternoon it 
became flat and hard and glazed. They were on the ice cap! 

Two marches short of the advance camp where they were to 
meet the rest of the expedition, a storm swept down upon them. 
Neither Peary nor Henson knew how to build a snow-block 
igloo and they were able only to throw up a rudimentary wall 
of hard-packed snow and huddle together at its base. They slept 
in sleeping bags, another item they were eventually to learn was 
unsuited to the trail. The snow covered them and their dogs, and 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 61 ] 

they slept with what body heat they could give each other. 

When Henson awoke there was an intense pain in his left eye. 
He clapped his hand to it, but said nothing. Later, the pain left 
him and he gave it no more thought, which was just as well 
as he could have done nothing if he had known the truth. They 
roused the dogs out of the snow, hitched them up, and were off 
toward the advance base, making it after one march, a sleep, and 
a second march. 

On May 24 Peary and Astrup left the base, called Camp 
Separation, and headed northeast. The dogs were fresh and eager, 
their breaths sending up clouds of steam into the clear, sharp air, 
their bushy tails wagging. Not many of them were to return. 
Astrup, the Norwegian ski champion, resolutely wore his native 
skis despite the fact that they were entirely unsuited to the ter- 
rain. Peary wore his ponderous snowshoes, determined not to 
limp on die leg that had so recently mended. The two men 
gallantly waved and marched off, growing smaller and smaller on 
the white landscape and finally disappearing. The rest of the 
men and the dogs turned back toward Red Cliff House. 

The following summer months at Red Cliff House were passed 
by the men in hunting expeditions. Mrs. Peary was not a hunter, 
however. She was a fine-boned woman who did not at all like 
roughing it and whose husband had marched off and left her in 
the company of men she found, in many ways, quite vulgar. 
She did what most women do under stress she cleaned house. 
And Henson cleaned house. They took out and beat every rug 
and washed every dish. And when that was done, they beat the 
rugs and washed the dishes all over again. 

Josephine Peary was too proud to reveal directly how worried 
she was, but Matt knew. She would hardly let him leave her side, 
and even when she took litde camping trips, she demanded that 
he go with her. Between mistress and servant there were never 
any words of intimacy; even when their sleeping bags were but 
inches apart, there was but dependence on her part and loyalty 
on his. He was ready at all times to stand between her and pain, 
bu< of course he could not entirely do this. Her pain came from 

[ 62 ] AHDOOLO! 

being married to a man who could give but a small part of 
himself to her. 

Josephine Peary's entries in her journal are revealing. During 
June she wrote, "Since Matt does the cooking, I take long walks 
every day and find them most agreeable. We had a general house- 
cleaning today, and will have it now every Saturday. We have 
been obliged to dismiss the Eskimos from the living room during 
mealtime, as their odor is too offensive." 

During July she wrote, "I have lived through five days more 
of intense suspense. The Eskimos console me by talking of Mr. 
Peary as 'sinnypoh' (dead.)" 

And later in her journal the heartbreaking entry: "Never in 
my life have I felt so utterly alone and forsaken ... it surely 
must end sometime," 1 

Henson watched her with increasing concern. She was his 
responsibility, Peary's last order had been for him to care for her, 
and yet he knew no way to help her beyond maintaining a cheer- 
ful and confident air. She responded gratefully to this, deter- 
minedly ignoring the Eskimos who claimed that Kokoyah had 
certainly eaten up Peary. 

During the second week of July she suddenly confronted 
Henson with a blunt demand. "Matt, I want your honest opinion. 
When do you think the Lieutenant will return?" 

Henson had, of course, no way of knowing. Anything he said 
would be the wildest guess, yet he realized that even if he was 
wrong it was better to be positive than vague. Hope was better 
than honesty. He thought a moment, then said, "I figure they 
should return during the first week or so of August." 

Josephine Peary nodded eagerly. "That was what I had 
figured." Then she sighed. "But it is difficult just to sit and 

"Yes, ma'am, it is. But the time will pass if we keep busy." 

"I've kept busy," she said with some impatience. 

"Yes, ma'am," Matt said. 

Suddenly she squared her small, delicate shoulders and said, 
"Matt, I'm not going to sit here at Red Cliff House another 

The Biography of Matthew A. Hmson [ 63 ] 

week. I want to go out and meet Mr. Peary. The two of us will 
go. You make the arrangements." 

"You mean, you want to go out on the ice cap?" Henson asked, 

"That's exactly what I mean." 

Henson shook his head. "That would be very dangerous. The 
Lieutenant wouldn't approve of it, not at all. No, ma'am, I'm 
sorry, but I couldn't do that." 

They faced each other, each unyielding, and for a moment 
she considered ordering the servant to obey. But then she gave 
a small sigh, for she knew he was right. 

Seeing the crisis had passed, the test of wills avoided, Henson 
said, "There's something we might do. We could set up an 
advance camp at the head of the bay and be there to watch for 
him on the ice cap. We could be there with a cache of food to 
greet him the minute he returns." 

"Of course!" she exclaimed. "Make the arrangements at once!" 

The following week Henson and Ikwah, sledges loaded with 
provisions, broke trail to establish an advance base at the head of 
the bay. Two days later Dr. Cook brought Mrs. Peary to camp. 
Ikwah and Cook returned to Red CM House, leaving Henson 
and Mrs. Peary in their lonely vigil. They kept regular watches 
around the clock so that one of them would always be awake 
if Peary appeared out of the vast white desert. 

They occupied themselves with hunting trips, with excursions 
farther and farther inland to lay down caches of food, but no 
matter how violent the physical activity, Josephine Peary could 
not entirely down the fear that kept climbing within her. She 
wrote in her journal, ". . . To offset these dark forebodings and 
keep my spirits from sinking too low, I repeat a paragraph in 
Mr. Peary's letter which says: 'I have no doubt I shall be with 
you August 1st, but if there should be a little delay, it will be 
delay only, and not danger. I have a hundred days' provisions.' " 

On July 24 the Kite arrived from the south. An Eskimo took 
the news to Henson and Mrs. Peary in their advance camp, but 
she refused to return to Red Cliff House and miss the chance of 

[ 64 ] AHDOOLO! 

being the first to greet her returning husband. Finally Professor 
Angelo Heilprin, chief scientist aboard the relief ship, hiked the 
fifteen miles to her encampment to plead personally the advan- 
tages of her coming aboard the Kite while he organized a search 

She agreed, reluctantly, and entered in her journal, "Professor 
Heilprin, having determined to move his party to the head of the 
bay, preparatory to a search on the inland ice, the Kite heaved 
anchor at nine this morning, and is now lying opposite the point 
which I only recently deserted. By the professor's kind invitation 
I joined the Kite party, and Matt, who has been my steady 
guardian since Mr. Peary's departure, accompanies me." 

That entry was on August 4. On August 5 a rescue party put 
ashore and started onto the ice cap. On August 6 they saw in the 
distance two tiny, staggering figures coming down the glacier. 
They were Peary and Astrup. 

Their bearded faces were gray and haggard, their kamiks were 
worn to shreds, the feet of the few surviving dogs were lacerated 
and the animals were barely able to drag themselves, let alone 
the sledges. But in Peary's eyes, bloodshot from attacks of snow- 
blindness, there burned the fever of victory. 

He had traveled a total of 1,200 miles, had discovered a sea 
on the northeast coast of Greenland and named it Independence 
Bay. This made probable the insularity of the great land mass, 
but it was not definite. In this sense, his victory was a limited 
one. And this was his goad. 

When he came aboard the Kite he wrapped his arms around 
his wife and spoke with some of the wildness of exhaustion. 
"Next year we'll prove it! Next year we'll explore the eastern 
coast This land may be a peninsula that runs all the way north 
to the Pole. This ice cap may be the imperial highway to the 
North Pole. Next year we'll come back and pry her secrets from 
her rocky bosom ... so help me God!" 

Josephine Peary clung to her husband, her head pressed against 
his gaunt chest. He did not notice her failure to share his 
enthusiasm: he was too intoxicated with his fatigue and his 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 65 ] 

visions. She had prayed for his return, and her prayers had been 
answered and she was grateful. But always implicit in her prayers 
was the hope that he would return freed of the North. Instead, 
he was more deeply enmeshed than ever. She closed her eyes to 
conceal the pain of the sudden sure knowledge of what the future 
was to hold. 

Standing nearby on the deck of the Kite, Henson saw and 
understood and felt compassion. Still, his tender emotion was 
all but overwhelmed by a feeling of elation. They were coming 
back! He would again hunt and laugh with his Eskimo friends. 
Maybe this next time he would even get on the trail with the 

Henson, no less than Peary, was caught by the North. 


Before the Kite sailed for home, John Verhoeff, the mineralogist, 
asked permission to make a final trip overland to the Eskimo 
settlements in Robertson Bay for the purpose of collecting speci- 
mens. Peary was reluctant to let him go alone, but finally gave 

Two days passed, the allotted time, and Verhoeff did not 
return. Peary at once undertook extensive searches, throwing the 
entire expedition into the operation. Ikwah and Henson headed 
up one party that included Gibson and several Eskimos. Four 
days had passed since Verhoeff' s disappearance and the search 
party double-marched back and forth over the Robertson Bay 

Ikwah, breaking trail, suddenly halted his sledge and motioned 
the others behind him to approach carefully. Henson came up 
to find an imprint of a snowshoe next to a gaping hole that led 
hundreds of feet down into a black canyon on whose floor was 
a forest of jagged rocks. The track could only belong to Ver- 
hoeff. He had plunged to his death through the thin ice that in- 
sidiously concealed the abyss. 

Ikwah said, "Kokoyah eat kabloona (the devil has eaten the 
white man)." He had long predicted Kokoyah's anger at the 

C 66 ] 

The Biography of Matthew A. Benson [ 67 ] 

penetration of his domain, and here was the proof. There was 
some satisfaction in his voice, as there is bound to be when a 
man finds the world properly ordered after all. 

During the voyage homeward Peary entered into his journal a 
judgment of the men of his expedition: 

To Dr. Cook's care may be attributed the almost complete exemp- 
tion of the party from even the mildest indispositions and personally 
I owe much to his professional skill, and unruffled patience and cool- 
ness in an emergency. In addition to his work in his special ethnologi- 
cal field, in which he has obtained a large mass of most valuable 
material concerning a practically unstudied tribe, he was always help- 
ful and an indefatigable worker. 

Verhoeff, besides contributing generously to the expense of the 
expedition, was devoted to his meteorological and tidal observations 
and made a complete and valuable series of both. 

Gibson, a natural hunter, quick with rifle and gun, in addition to his 
ornithological work, contributed more largely than any other member 
to our supply of game. 

Astrup, a young Norwegian, a boy in years, but a man in grit and 
endurance, was one among a thousand for the long and lonely 
journey during which he was my sole companion. 

Henson, my faithful colored boy, a hard worker and apt at any- 
thing, being in turn cook, hunter, dog driver, housekeeper, and body- 
guard, showed himself, in powers of endurance and ability to with- 
stand cold, the equal of others in the party. 8 

They were generous words from a leader who, flushed with 
success and eager for the next foray, had forgotten the tensions 
that had riven these men during the long Arctic night. He did not 
at this time know that only two of them (Astrup and Henson) 
would go north with him the next trip, and only one (Henson) 
would stay with him after that. 

When the Kite returned home the members of the expedition 
found themselves welcomed as heroes. The average American 
didn't quite know what they had accomplished, but was aware 
that the nation's prestige had been greatly enhanced, Russia, 

[ 68 ] AHDOOLO! 

Great Britain, and the Scandinavian countries had all been prob- 
ing the North, and generally with greater success than the 
Americans. The last official expedition the United States had sent 
north was in 1881, a project conceived and carried out by the 
Army and under the command of Major Adolphus W. Greely. 
It was a success only in the heroism of the men. The band of 
soldiers survived on seaweed and their own clothing until the 
spring of 1884 when they began to die of starvation one at a 
time. When the relief ship smashed through Melville Bay and 
rounded Cape Sabine, it found a pitiful seven men left out of the 
original company of twenty-five. 

But now Peary, a man little known, appeared with dramatic 
suddenness as the champion of American aspirations in the North, 
and the public thrilled to his success, and to his promises of 
greater things to come. Little was noted about Matthew Henson. 
If reference was made to him in the spate of feature stories it was 
only to identify him as "Peary's colored servant." 

Upon returning to New York, Henson received the fifty dollars 
due him under the contract, and he was on his own until the next 
expedition could be organized by Peary. This didn't worry him 
there was always work available, the menial and abundant work 
open to a colored boybut now his eye began to pain him again. 
He looked up Dr. Cook, who was in Philadelphia. 

After examining him Cook leaned back in his chair and said 
candidly, "Matt, it's beyond me. Obviously you froze that eyeball 
on the trail and now there are some complications. But it's for 
an ophthalmologist, a specialist. I can send you to a good man. 
It may mean hospitalization, though." 

"I don't know as I can afford that, Doc," Henson said. 

"Oh? Tell me, Matt, how much money do you have?" 

"About thirty dollars left, I guess." 

"Thirty dollars! Good Lord, how much were you paid?" 

"Fifty dollars." 

Cook looked at him, unbelieving. "You mean, for the entire 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 69 ] 

Henson grinned. "It's fifty dollars more than you were paid, 

Cook laughed and said, "You're right there, but * . ." He 
thought better of the sentence and didn't finish it. What he was 
going to say was that he went north as an explorer, not as a 
servant. Instead, he said, "We'll have to work something out, 
Matt. You need treatment." 

Cook generously paid Henson's fare to Brooklyn and put him 
up in his mother's home. Dr. Jackson M. Mills examined Matt and 
discovered a severe case of sun-blindness. This was something 
both Henson and Peary were to suffer from periodically in the 
coming decades in the North. It is caused by die presence in the 
Arctic of intense ultraviolet and actinic rays. The actinic ray is 
a property of radiant energy found in the shorter wave lengths, 
and both rays are outside the visible spectrum. 

These rays had produced tiny blisters on the cornea of Hen- 
son's eye. Some of the blisters had broken open, becoming 
ulcerous and causing extreme pain when the eye opened and 

The doctor's treatment was given without charge, and for the 
two months Henson was confined in bed, Cook's sister Lilly was 
his nurse. His eyes responded well, and by December, 1892, he 
was ready to leave the family to whom he would be forever 
grateful. Dr. Cook came to visit his mother the week Henson 
was to leave and received the profuse thanks in a preoccupied 
manner. It was obvious that he had something on his mind, and 
finally it came out. 

"Matt, have you heard from Peary recently?" 

"Yes, I have. He's organizing a lecture tour." 

"I know, I know," Cook muttered darkly. 

"He asked me to go on it with him. He wants to use the team 
of dogs he brought back and I guess he wants me to handle the 
dogs, get them onto the platform and off without any fights 
breaking out." 

"I've put together a lecture, too," Cook said. "It's based on 
the ethnological material I gathered about the Eskimos* You 

[ 70 ] AHDOOLO! 

remember all those pictures and measurements we took? There's 
a lot of interest in them, but now suddenly Peary refuses to let 
me lecture. IVe talked to him several times about it, but he 
absolutely refuses." 

Henson thought a moment. "Wasn't it in your contract that 
you couldn't lecture or write about the expedition for two 

"Heck, I thought that was just a formality. I had no idea he'd 
hold us to it. It's unfair, you know. He goes out to lecture but 
won't let me. He just wants everything for himself. Well, one 
thing is certain, I've gone north with him for the last time. After 
this it will be on my own." 

It was not quite true that Peary wanted everything for himself, 
as Cook charged, but he did want everything for his 'work. He 
conceived of himself as an instrument of America's destiny in 
the North, and was fully convinced that anything done to ad- 
vance himself in this great work was not only moral and just 
but patriotic. Being a man without any funds of his own, he was 
faced with a stiff battle to finance his expeditions and he knew 
that his writings and lecturing would be a vital source of in- 
come. Every cent he made, beyond modest living expenses, went 
into his expeditions right up to the last one. He expected Cook, 
and everyone eke connected with any of his expeditions, to share 
this Spartan dedication to his mission. 

The lecture tour Henson had referred to was actually under- 
taken reluctantly and at the last minute. Up until the winter of 
1893 Peary had hoped that scientific organizations would entirely 
underwrite his second Greenland expedition, but this didn't hap- 
pen. Money was forthcoming, but not fast enough to suit Peary, 
and he decided upon the expedient of the lecture tour. With 
Henson, he put together a performance that was a smashing 
success. Among his other qualities was a sense of drama. 

The curtain parted to reveal an Eskimo village complete with 
tupik (tent), sledges, weapons, and furs in great quantities. No 
one had ever seen such things, and they immediately set a mood 
of mystery and adventure. Then onto the stage strode Peary, 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 71 ] 

dressed in Arctic furs. He was tall, handsome, masterful, all that 
the audience dreamed an explorer would be. If his lecture was 
rather wooden in delivery, the stories he told them were thrilling. 
The climax of the performance came when suddenly the audience 
heard from the wings the strange cry, "Huk . . . huk . . . huk!" 
immediately followed by the report of a cracking whip. Onto 
the stage raced eight Eskimo dogs driven by Henson, complete 
in Eskimo garb. A cry of astonishment went up from the audi- 
ence, followed by involuntary applause. 

Henson had trained the dogs so that after their boisterous en- 
trance they sat quietly while Peary continued the lecture. How- 
ever, the moment Peary exceeded his allotted time they lost their 
patience and set up a howl, thereby ending the performance amid 
laughter and good cheer all around. 

In 103 days Peary and Henson made 165 appearances. The 
tour brought in the sum of $20,000, of which $13,000 went to 
the expedition. This, combined with monies privately and insti- 
tutionally contributed, was sufficient to get the expedition under 
way. The Falcon sailed out of Philadelphia on June 23, 1893. 

The dimension of the party had grown considerably. It in- 
cluded the following: Samuel Entrikin, Eivind Astrup, Edward 
Vincent, surgeon, E. B. Baldwin, meteorologist, George H. Clark, 
taxidermist, Hugh J. Lee, George H. Carr, James Davidson, 
Walter F. Swain, Frederick Stokes, artist, Mrs. Susan J. Cross, 
nurse,, Mrs. Peary, and Matthew Henson. 

Later Peary was to write: "Carried away by enthusiasm, and 
with no time in the rapid whirl of effort for a calm consideration 
of the matter, I made the fatal mistake of taking, contrary to my 
expressed theory, a large party." 9 

This was an understatement to the extreme! It was not only a 
large party, but one unsuited by training and temperament to 
perform the tasks allotted to it. If there had been tensions in the 
previous expedition, this one almost came apart at the seams. 

To begin with, Mrs. Peary was pregnant! The child was due 
some time during September, right at the moment the long Arctic 
night and winter storms would descend. It was, no doubt, heroic 

[ 72 ] AHDOOLO! 

of Josephine Peary to face her ordeal under such terrible condi- 
tions, but her heroism was vastly to complicate life for the other 
members of the expedition. 

Henson was among the first to learn of the impending event. 
Peary said to him, "Matt, Mrs. Peary is going t6 have a baby 
during the expedition." 

"Congratulations, sir," Matt said, after recovering from sur- 

"Thank you, thank you," Peary said beaming. "September, the 
doctor thinks. Now, Fm counting on you to look after Mrs. 
Peary. Oh, there'll be a doctor present, of course, and Mrs. Cross, 
the nurse they'll take care of all the medical aspects but you 
must see that Mrs. Peary's other needs are always met. And 
when the baby comes, you protect it just as if it were your own." 

"Yes, sir," Matt said, concealing his disappointment. Now he 
was to be nursemaid to a baby! The chance of going on the 
trail seemed more remote than ever before. 

Peary mused, "This child of mine will be the first white child 
born in the Far North, the first American born north of the 
Arctic Circle." 

The Falcon steamed north by the same route taken by the 
Kite the year before, but this time deposited the expedition at 
Bowdoin Bay just south of McCormick Bay. The new house, 
large because of the expanded expedition and the imminent birth, 
was called Anniversary Lodge, for it was on this site that Peary 
and his wife had stood during their wedding anniversary the 
previous year. The Falcon sailed for home on August 20, with 
the house still unfinished. 

A warm reunion took place between Henson and his old 
Eskimo friends who flocked back to assist the new expedition. 
Hunting parties were undertaken to supply seal and walrus and 
reindeer meat; other expeditions were sent onto the ice to lay 
down caches of food; but the one overshadowing event was the 
coming birth of the baby. In a partitioned-off corner of the 
Lodge, Mrs. Peary lay in labor. And on September 12, 1893, she 
delivered a nine-pound baby girl who was named Marie Ahnighito 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 73 ] 

Peary, and was dubbed the Snow Baby. Eskimos came from miles 
around to look with amazement on the tiny white face, and to 
touch it with their brown fingers to make certain it was flesh 
and not snow. 

As soon as they were able, mother and child were taken out- 
doors and posed for a picture. The baby was wrapped, not in 
blankets, not in furs, but in an American flag! 

[ VIII ] 

Aside from the safe arrival of the Snow Baby, nothing seemed 
to go right* Peary had brought north a pack of burros, hoping to 
use them to supplement dog power, but one by one they sickened 
and died. Astrup was sent up on the ice cap to lay down supplies, 
but was caught in severe storms and couldn't carry out the 
assignment. Then he became ill and was of litde use for many 
weeks. Carr had fallen on the ice and injured his back. A freak 
gigantic wave came out of the bay to attack the Lodge and smash 
most of the barrels of oil needed for winter fuel. In February, 
Lee, who had been laying down caches on the moraine, from 
which point the crossing of the ice cap was to begin, got caught 
in a storm and after forty-eight hours staggered into camp with 
a frozen toe. 

An indication of how low the morale of the expedition had 
fallen was the fact that even Henson became involved in a con- 
troversy. It was with the buxom and bumptious Mrs. Cross. She 
had been brought north as a nurse, but the Pearys had assumed 
she would share general housekeeping chores when not actually 
engaged in nursing. She resented this as beneath her professional 
dignity and demanded that Henson do the menial work. Henson, 

C 74 ] 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 75 ] 

frustrated in his desire to be on the trail, resented and ignored 
her orders to him. The mood in Anniversary Lodge was not a 
happy one. 

During the first week of March, 1894, Peary set out on his 
projected sledging expedition with a party of eight: Entrikin, 
Clark, Davidson, Lee, Carr, Astrup, and Dr. Vincent. His plan 
was to cross the ice cap to Independence Bay and there divide 
into three parties. One party of three would proceed northward 
along the coast in hope of advancing well toward the North 
Pole. A second party of three would follow the coast southward 
to Cape Bismarck and then return across the ice cap to base. The 
other two men would remain at Independence Bay and hunt for 
food, laying in provisions for themselves and the returning north- 
ern party. 

It didn't work out as planned. Frostbite and storms put mem- 
bers out of operation one by one and they had to be sent back 
to the Lodge. Peary kept on with an ever diminishing party but 
sledges broke, sleeping bags became heavy with moisture and 
almost unportable, and strange mirages began to destroy their 
nerves. Peary wrote: "... the winter and temperature, acting 
upon the moisture of Baldwin's breath, froze his kooletah [fur 
jacket] so rigid that he could neither walk nor turn his head, 
and was obliged to come into camp lying on his sledge." 10 

One of the dogs came down with piblokto, a little-understood 
disease that attacked both animals and humans. It frequently ap- 
peared among the Eskimo women during the winter nights and 
took the form of hysterical screaming and running, usually ac- 
companied by the stripping off of their clothes and jumping 
into the freezing waters. When forcibly restrained, the seizure 
would pass and the woman become as cheerful and tractable as 
before. The dogs, on the other hand, failed to recover when 
stricken by piblokto. The madness made them attack and bite 
everything within reach and, being a menace to the rest of the 
pack, they were always killed by the driver. Piblokto was dreaded 
on the trail because its appearance meant cruel reductions in the 

[ 76 ] AHDOOLO! 

size of the teams. In this case, the first appearance of the madness 
among the dogs came on April 10 and the expedition was only 
128 miles out from the Lodge. 

Peary wrote a report of the party's condition: " . . . one [man] 
was entirely out of the race with frosted feet, and must return to 
the Lodge. Another was not entirely recovered from an attack of 
cramps at the last camp, and I feared another storm would bring 
them on again. The third had both heels and great toes frost- 
bitten, and was having daily attacks of bleeding from the 
nose. . . . " n 

On top of the disintegration of his men, there was the serious 
problem of the lateness of the season. He had planned to be at 
Independence Bay on April 1, but here it was the 10th and he was 
only a quarter of the way. With heavy heart Peary gave the sig- 
nal to turn back. On the return trip he carefully cached his 
supplies, marking each with tall poles in case drifts covered them. 
Thus would food be available for his next trip across the ice 

While Peary and his band were freezing on the ice cap, an event 
took place back in camp that was to have ironic overtones. One 
afternoon the redoubtable Mrs. Cross looked up from the prepara- 
tion of baby Marie's food to find Matt Henson standing before 
her. On his face was an expression both apologetic and defiant. 
Beside him stood a small Eskimo boy, his tiny hand gripping 
Matt's large forefinger. 

"I want to heat some water," Henson said. 

"What for?" Mrs. Cross demanded suspiciously. 

"I'm going to give him a bath." 

She looked down at the child with matted hair and shabby, 
dirt-streaked clothing. "Not in this kitchen!" she announced. 

Henson put a bucket of water on the oil stove, saying, "Cer- 
tainly not outdoors, Mrs. Cross." 

"Now see here, Matt, we can't have these filthy little heathens 
running all over the place." 

Henson lit the fire. "He won't be filthy after I bathe him." 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 77 ] 

"I'll see Mrs. Peary about this," stormed Mrs. Cross. "You 
can't bring every stray into this kitchen." 

Henson swung around to face her, then said quietly, "He's not 
a stray, Mrs. Cross. He's my son. His name is Kudlooktoo." 

She gasped and retreated a step, her hand protectively to her 
bosom. She had heard stories about the sinful goings-on in the 
igloos, but this was the first time she had come face to face with 
the consequences. 

Henson couldn't keep a grin from his face. "He's an orphan, 
Mrs. Cross, and Fve adopted him." 

This put a slightly different light on it. Still it was too much 
for Mrs. Cross and she fled to the private quarters occupied by 
Mrs. Peary and the baby, there to tell her woes. Henson cut the 
boy's hair short, stripped oS his greasy clothes and burned them, 
then scrubbed the small brown body until it glowed a glistening 
copper. Fresh furs were put on the child, who through it all 
had remained stoic and silent. 

"Agga-nik tigu-latt-langa (give me your hand)," Matt said to 
him. The child trustingly slipped his tiny fist into the big, hard 
one and was led into the other room. Matt spread furs on the 
floor beneath his own bunk and put the child to bed. On his 
hands and knees, he rubbed the litde turned-up nose with his 
own and murmured, "Sinnit-si-arit (sleep well)." 

The child smiled happily and closed his eyes. 

In the days that followed, wherever Henson went, litde Kud- 
looktoo went. And on the round little brown face was an ex- 
pression of unutterable hero-worship and love. 

It was highly significant that Henson had been allowed to adopt 
the child. The Eskimos cherished children and when Kudlooktoo's 
widowed mother died, all the neighbors expressed eagerness to 
take the child. Yet when Henson expressed his own interest, all 
gave way to him. The tribe would not have done this for any- 
body but Henson. 

The irony of all this was that at the very moment Henson had 
symbolically become an Eskimo (by fatherhood), Peary and his 

[ 78 ] AHDOOLO! 

men on the ice cap were freezing because they did not know 
enough of Eskimo ways. 

The Falcon was due to come north in August, and Peary was 
aghast at the idea of returning on her, defeated. He conferred 
with Henson on the problem. 

"Matt, I'm going to stay through the winter and make another 
try next spring. How do you feel about it?" 

"I'll stay," Matt said at once. 

"Good boy." Peary grinned. "I was sure you would. Now, our 
principal problem is one of supplies. We have food caches along 
the trail, which will help take care of the expedition next spring, 
but we'll have to depend on local game to see us through the 
winter here at the Lodge. Expecting us to return, the Falcon will 
not bring new provisions north and so it will be up to us to eat 
off the land." 

"There should be plenty of reindeer this fall," Matt said. 

"Even so, we'll have a smaller party. I'll ask for volunteers and 
then pick the three best men. We can eliminate a lot of dead 
wood that way." 

Hugh Lee, the young newspaperman from Meriden, Connecti- 
cut, wrote his mother a letter dated April 27, 1895, in which he 

. . . Last evening Mr. Peary had a talk with the party and told us 
that the party had not failed, that when it came near time for the 
ship to come he would call for volunteers and from those who 
volunteered he would choose three. . . . Those three would remain 
with him another year and the rest come home. As I feel now I would 
volunteer and perhaps be chosen as one of the three. . . . What 
would be the advantages of remaining another year (?). First, there 
would be but four who would live together. Mr. Peary would not 
be in a separate place. . . . Then, we would have a great deal of 
experience and could have much better outfits than we have had this 
yearthere would be but four and so the resources would be more 
in proportion to the number. 12 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 79 ] 

When Peary mentioned volunteers, he did not require an an- 
swer at once; the men had ample time to think it over before the 
ship arrived. Then, unable to stand inactivity, he took Matt 
sledging south down the coast of Greenland in search of the giant 
meteorites discovered by Sir Joseph Ross in 1818. He found the 
meteorites, made careful note of their location, and returned to 
the Lodge only a few days before the arrival of the Falcon. 

He was now ready to receive volunteers. But none came for- 
ward. Though he didn't press any man there was a week yet 
he couldn't help wondering what was going on in their minds. 
He now felt the lonely burden of leadership. 

Peary was a special kind of leader. He was not the born leader 
in the sense that he could inflame men to heroic deeds: he had no 
hypnotic charm that could momentarily make weak men into 
strong ones. He did not dispense lavish praise or make glowing 
promises. He was often abrupt in manner, always demanding in 
work, utterly scornful of whiners and malingerers. What he did 
possess was a high and unswerving sense of justice. If a man did a 
good job he was praised; if he did a poor one he was criticized. 
No man was asked to undertake more than Peary himself would 
do. In short, he was a good leader of strong men. Lesser men often 
found him intolerable. 

The Falcon hove to in Melville Bay on August 3; she would 
sail on the 23rd. Mrs. Cross had already announced she had had 
enough and was going back, which meant that Mrs. Peary and the 
baby would have to go. Astrup had had a physical breakdown, 
Carr a frozen foot, Davidson a wrenched back. Still, there 'were 
able-bodied men, but they looked the other way. Finally, at the 
last minute there was one volunteer. It was Hugh J. Lee. 

Lee recorded the event in his diary: 

He [Peary] told me he had asked each of the others if he would 
stay another year and each had refused. Then he told me that Matt 
would stay and asked, "How about you?" 

I replied, "I'll stay with you." 

With a look of joy he said, "Do you mean it?" and I said, "Sure." 

[ 80 ] AHDOOLO! 

"Do you really mean it?" he asked, and when I assured him I did, 
he said, "Well, shake hands on it." 13 

When it came time for the Falcon to sail, Peary and Henson 
and five Eskimos went down the bay with her in a whaleboat. 
Good-bys were waved from small boat to large at the last mo- 
ment as the Falcon turned south through Melville Bay. Of all 
those who lined the rail of the steamer, only Mrs. Peary felt any 
reluctance to go, and her tie was not to the bleak land but to the 
man who stood in the stern of the whaleboat. He waved and 
shouted last-minute endearments and she smiled bravely back, con- 
cealing the bitterness within her. 

She never did reveal to him how she felt that day, or at the 
many other moments of separation over the years to come. Not 
until the baby in her arms had grown to womanhood did she ever 
confess her heart. "Mother," Marie Peary said to her years later, 
"how did you really feel about Father spending all those years 
in the North?" 

The little old woman, handsome still, and proud, gave her 
daughter a searching look, then countered with a question of her 
own. "How would you like to share your husband with a mis- 
tress? The Arctic was your father's mistress. I could never stand 
against her." 

At the moment of leavetaking back in Melville Bay, Peary was 
experiencing some bitterness, too. His was not directed at his wife, 
but at the other members of the expedition. He later wrote: 
"... the Falcon steamed south with everyone else on board. 
Davidson and Carr were invalided, the former with a frosted heel 
and the latter with a weak back; the other members of my party 
had discovered that Arctic work was not entirely the picnic they 
had imagined, and wisely regarding discretion as the better part 
of valor, had decided to return home; Lee and Henson alone 
possessed the grit and loyalty to remain." 14 

Peary's command had shrunk to two men. 


As the Falcon turned south and the whaleboat turned north, 
Matthew Henson was the only completely happy man on the 
scene. He had no wife to worry about and divide his loyalties. 
What family he had was here in the North in the body of Kud- 
looktoo. There was nothing to alloy his excitement over the 
coining adventure. He joked with the five Eskimos who made up 
the boat crew. There were Kardah, known as "three-ply" because 
of his habit of repeating everything three times, Ingopahdo or 
"freckles" because of his splotched complexion, quiet and hard- 
working Kahdahsu, round-faced and merry Akpudisoahho, and 
plodding but faithful Nooktah. They all responded to Henson's 
ebullience, making jokes and laughing. 

The whaleboat was grandly named General Wistar, and she 
was nearly 200 miles south of the Lodge at Bowdoin Bay. There 
were treacherous waters and uncertain weather to be navigated 
and her motive power was a small sail and seven pairs of human 
arms. As she started bravely north along the coast, Peary began 
to discuss the winter plans with Henson, asking his advice on a 
number of points. There was a new mood of comradeship be- 
tween them. 

They discussed the food problem first. At the Lodge, where 

C 81 1 

[ 82 ] AHDOOLO! 

Lee waited, there was sufficient food for the winter with the ex- 
ception of meat. It was decided that Henson and the Eskimos 
would go to the deer pastures to get meat for the men, and then 
to the walrus feeding grounds to obtain dog food. While this 
was being done, Peary and Lee would go out on the ice cap to 
locate the caches of food and re-mark them so they could be 
easily found during the spring march. 

The winter could be spent in leisurely repair of equipment and 
clothes, in practice sledge trips, in toning up the minds and bodies 
for the extreme physical tests of the spring march. There was 
only one problem that worried Peary: the possibility of an epi- 
demic of piblokto ravaging the dog pack. If it did break out, 
they might not have enough dogs left in the spring to make the 
march. Peary discussed it with Henson; Henson then discussed 
it with the Eskimos. Peary could speak a pidgin sort of Eskimo 
but couldn't come near Henson's fluency. 

After a lengthy discussion, Henson reported back to Peary, 
"They're not much help. They say there is no way of knowing 
when piblokto might break out, no symptoms to watch for, no 
cure. They say it is the work of the devil. And" he laughed 
ruefully "they say that since we have already offended the 
devil by going onto the ice cap, he might well send piblokto to 
our dogs to prevent us from doing it again." 

"Humph!" snorted Peary, frowning ahead at the darkening 
sea. "Tell them to lay on those oars." 

"Huk . . . huk!" Henson called to the Eskimos. Since this was 
the order given to dogs on the trail, it was very funny and every- 
one had to double over with laughter. It was several moments 
before the Eskimos had recovered sufficiently to obey the com- 

Peary, always conscious of the drama about him, entered in 
his journal: "As I turned . . . northward towards the gloom of 
the coming Arctic night, for which my boat was heading, my 
eyes rested upon my Eskimo crew, pulling with all the strength 
of their iron-muscled backs for the shelter of the bleak rocks of 
Cape Athol. A strange, wild, fur-clad crew. . . . With an Ameri- 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 83 ] 

can leader, an African coxswain, and an Eskimo crew, I had the 
Equator, the Temperate Zone and the Pole, all compressed into 
a space of twenty-eight feet." 15 

Savage storms were frequent in these waters at this time of 
year, and Peary looked anxiously at the froth being whipped up 
on the waves. Flakes of snow were beginning to descend from 
an opaque sky. The General Wistar was not built to withstand 
the kind of weather that seemed in the making and Peary nudged 
Henson, who nodded his head and called out for a faster stroke 
on the oars. 

The Eskimos bent to their work, but did not let it interfere 
with their conversation. They were garrulous as so many spar- 
rows, swapping spicy gossip about the tribe, talking about the 
wonderful ship they had just seen, reviewing incidents of the 
trip they were on, talking to the sky and the waves and the birds. 
An inquisitive gull swooped low over the boat and they all 
laughed happily and shouted advice. A flock of bustling little 
auks flew by and they were cheered on with cries of, "Go it, little 
ones . . . you'll get there . . . don't get tired." When a seal 
raised his head out of the waters there was the cry, "Taku! 
Taku-u-u (Look . . . look)!" One would have thought this 
was the first seal they had seen in their lives. 

They were ebullient, irrepressible, childlike. If the weather 
turned bad, they would then cope with it; they did not propose 
to worry in advance. Let the white man worry, if he wished. 
Worry seemed to be the disease of his race. 

Peary broke out the sail and under the stiff, offshore breeze 
they made Cape Athol at 1:30 P.M. After a brief reconnoiter 
ashore, they saw the tides were loosening the ice pan, allowing 
them to beat their way farther up the coast. Alternately sailing, 
rowing, camping on the shore to hunt and eat and sleep, they 
made their tortuous way northward until they came to the 
glittering Misumisu, the largest iceberg-forming glacier along 
this shore. 

It was an ice stream that, over decades and decades, had flowed 
down from the ice cap, down a gorge, and projected a good 

[ 84 ] AHDOOLO! 

300 yards into the sea. About midway from shore to its face was 
a magnificent tunnel large enough to span a ten-story building. 
The General Wistar could either sail through the tunnel or 
laboriously beat her way out to sea and sail around the iceberg 
and into the more violent water of the open sound. Under 
Peary's order, Henson steered the boat toward the tunnel. There 
was little wind here and the Eskimos bent their backs to the oars 
as the great arch loomed above them. The air between the 
vaulting crystal roof and the liquid floor was a shimmering blue 
and it seemed as if they were about to enter some enchanted 

The bow of the whaleboat was just about to enter the tunnel 
when there came a strange sound above their heads, like a celes- 
tial explosion, like the heavens cracking open. Henson looked up 
and gasped. It was as if a piece of the sky was falling! 

An enormous block of ice had broken loose from the keystone 
of the arch and was hurtling downward. It fell with a roar into 
the water floor of the tunnel, sending out peals of thunder and a 
great wave which attacked and shook the tiny boat, threatening 
to capsize it. Henson put the tiller hard over and yelled at the 
Eskimos. They needed no urging as they bent the oars in a 
mighty effort to escape. 

The falling of the ice block was the signal for the general disin- 
tegration of the glacier's face. Fragment after fragment fell out- 
wards, buttress after buttress toppled, until the entire face of the 
glacier was hidden in a hissing fury of spray, out of which raced 
angry waves to catch the fleeing boat. 

Tossed and bruised, gasping and wet, they made the safety of 
the sound and raised the sail to assist their aching arms. When 
they were miles away they could still hear the reports of the 
rending ice and the muffled roar of the waves hurling themselves 
into the newly formed caverns. 

On the evening of the second day they put ashore, beached 
and overturned the General Wistar, then made camp in a sheltered 
cove. Food was now a problem and on the morning of the third 
day the Eskimos took off along the coast to hunt. The weather 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 85 ] 

looked promising for a time; the snow had stopped and the wind 
died down, and both Peary and Henson sat in the lee of the up- 
turned General Wistar, talking quietly of their coming winter 
plans. The sky was a strange metallic color, leaden, but seemingly 
without menace. 

Then it happened! Almost without warning the two men were 
in the midst of an Anoahtaksoah, a peculiarly vicious sort of storm 
referred to by the Eskimos as the Demon of the Great Ice. 

These storms are caused by a sudden imbalance of the atmos- 
phere, a tilting of it, almost. A section of cold, heavy air existing 
above the interior ice cap suddenly starts to move toward the 
nearest exit point on the coast. It moves down the incline of the 
cap, gravity constantly accelerating it, until it finds a fjord and 
plunges, roaring, into it. It carries its heavy burden of snow hissing 
and screaming into the sea. It constitutes a gigantic air-jet which 
can move all but the heaviest objects. 

This was what now vented itself upon Peary and Henson. 
They huddled in a cove, the only sheltered spot in the entire 
bay, but still the wind clawed at them, shook them. 

"Matt, the boat!" Peary suddenly cried, pointing. 

The wind snatched the words out of his mouth and blew them 
away, but Henson turned to follow the pointing finger and saw, 
in horror, the bow of the General Wistar beginning to lift. The 
whaleboat had been beached upside down, and heavy as she was, 
she now began to flutter like a chip of wood. If the storm in- 
creased, the boat would be blown into the sea and lost. As they 
tried to decide what to do, the boat upended, stood quiveringly 
erect for a moment, then smashed back down. Even without 
going into the sea she could be pounded to pieces. 

With one accord, Peary and Henson jumped up and ran for 
the boat. The moment they stepped out of the protection of the 
cove they were knocked flat. They tried to rise and were knocked 
flat again, the giant hand of the storm pressing hard on their 
backs. They began to crawl, animal-like. Stones cut their hands 
and the storm pulled the breath from their mouths, but they 
inched forward, coming nearer and nearer the trembling boat. 

[ 86 ] AHDOOLO! 

At last they made it and, with the strength of desperation, they 
piled rocks on the boat's stern. Then they passed a grapnel rope 
across the bow and weighted it down on each side with stones. 
This seemed to hold the General Wistar against the beach and 
they began their tortuous trip back to the shelter of the cove. 
The storm had increased and was now picking up rocks and 
flinging them at them. They advanced, as under a bombardment, 
dodging the larger boulders, helplessly taking the smaller ones 
on their shoulders and backs. With the last of their waning 
strength they made the cove. 

That afternoon the storm seemed to abate a bit, but the wind 
was still too strong to stand against. Now a new danger crept 
upon them. Imperceptibly the tide began to come in. They were 
not aware of its significance at first, but suddenly they saw the 
tide accomplish what the wind had failed to do lift the boat, 
rocks and all. High and higher the tide rolled in toward the cove, 
sweeping the boat before it. Henson and Peary grabbed up a 
sail-sprit and fended the boat off the rocks. They took turns, each 
man working to the limit of his strength, then returning to the 
task when the other faltered. 

When it seemed they were about to be defeated, when exhaus- 
tion of mind and body reached the point where the boat hardly 
seemed worth saving, the storm abated. The General Wistar set- 
tled in her fetters quite innocently, as if she had never caused 
them a moment's concern. 

Late that night the hunters returned bearing slaughtered rein- 
deer. They heard with surprise the story of the Anoahtaksoah. 
They had been only a few miles off and it had not touched them. 
The Eskimos looked wise and murmured to each other that it was 
the work of the devil, of Kokoyah. 

The trip up the coast was resumed only to have yet another 
danger threaten them. The season was well advanced and the 
sound was beginning to freeze over. It became more and more 
difficult to find leads of open water through which to sail and 
row the General Wistar. Every day, every hour, was of great 
importance, and no time could be wasted in sleep. 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 87 ] 

One day was made memorable by the appearance of a school 
of narwhal, the fabled sea unicorn. Ingopahdo was in the bow of 
the boat and spotted them just to starboard. He called out in a 
stage whisper to the rest of the crew and all of them shipped oars 
to let the boat move forward silently. These are the most timid of 
mammals, and though their ears are the size of a pencil point, their 
hearing is extremely good. On this day, for some mysterious 
reason, they did not fear or resent the intrusion of the General 
Wistar. They moved alongside the boat, now sunning themselves, 
their dark spotted backs just afloat, now playing, swimming from 
open pool to open pool and surfacing to breathe, their wet ivory 
tusks glistening. They breathe through a hole in the top of their 
heads, as does a porpoise. 

The narwhal averages twenty feet in length and its horn, or 
tusk, is a development of one of its upper left canine teeth. It 
grows and grows, protruding through the upper lip just to the 
left of the nose. It is straight as a lance, spiraled from right to 
left, and has been known to reach a length of nine feet. 

Whereas swordfish have been known to use their horns to 
attack other fish, and even the bottoms of fishing boats, the nar- 
whal horn has never been used in anger. Sometimes two of them 
will playfully fence with their horns, but beyond that it is an 

All this lore was excitedly imparted to Henson and Peary by 
the Eskimos. They also reported that the meat is black in color 
and even more oily in taste than seal. The Eskimo custom was to 
dry it by hanging it on the face of a cliff. It was served as a 
delicacy to visitors during the winter. 

Peary forbade taking any narwhal at this time, for he was deter- 
mined to carry no more weight during the arduous trip remaining 
before them. Sadly the Eskimos watched the narwhal gambol 
in pools farther and farther distant, and then disappear. 

At last they came to Bowdoin Bay and set their course across 
it toward the Lodge on the opposite shore. But the bay was a 
chaos of trash ice and icebergs and large fields of last winter's ice, 
all cemented together by the young ice just forming. There was 

[ 88 ] AHDOOLO! 

practically no open water at all and it took the most strenuous 
effort to force the boat forward. After six hours they made land 
at a point five miles from the Lodge. They hauled the boat ashore, 
secured her, and hiked the rest of the way. 

Hugh Lee was sitting in the Lodge, writing a letter home by 
candlelight. He was homesick and glad they had returned. 


The coining winter was to alter both Peary and Henson, and 
to forge a new relationship between them. They had been to- 
gether for eight years: Peary was now thirty-eight and Henson 
twenty-eight. They had known adventure and hardship and 
frustration, but always they had been separated by the conven- 
tions of master and servant. This was now largely to disappear. 
Peary was not particularly eager for the new intimacy; events 
forced it. In two expeditions to Greenland he had had sixteen 
different men under his command, not counting ships' crews, and 
all of them had failed, in one way or another, to measure up to 
his expectations. All save Henson. There was Hugh Lee, of course, 
but for all the great courage he was to show during the coming 
marches, he was a boy, a tenderfoot, and he had neither Henson's 
knowledge of the North nor his strength to combat it. 

Of the many factors forcing the new comradeship between 
Peary and Henson, the Eskimos were the greatest. Peary had 
come north with an arrogance of race and culture; he had written 
that it is the educated man who is most resilient under pressure, 
who survives and succeeds because he is able to e urill his survival 
and success. But the North was teaching him some modesty. The 
Eskimos, people of the Stone Age, not only survived here but 

[ 89 ] 

[ 90 ] AHDOOLO! 

prospered. More and more he was employing their techniques, 
and in the end, it was the total adoption of their way of travel 
and dress and living that made possible his discovery of the Pole. 
Henson was his bridge to these aborigines. The Eskimos re- 
spected and trusted Peary, but they loved Henson. And in their 
primitive society more things were done for love than for duty. 

Following their arrival at Anniversary Lodge, Peary and Hen- 
son rested a few days and then began preparations for the winter. 
Henson and Ahnalka headed a party of Eskimos that went off 
to the caribou-grazing area. A week later they returned with 
six carcasses. Peary and Lee led a party on a walrus hunt in the 
General Wistar. They returned with the boat filled to the gun- 
wales with these monsters. Men and dogs would be supplied with 
meat through the winter. 

The slaughter of the walrus greatly impressed the Eskimos, 
for these were fierce and strong beasts. When an Eskimo killed 
one, he was honored by his friends at a feast, and now the tra- 
dition held. 

"Pearyaksoah is a great hunter," Ahnalka said to Henson after 
the walrus had been removed from the boat, quartered, and hung 
up to freeze. 

"Great hunter," Henson agreed. 

"We will have a feast for him. Come to my igloo." 

Henson carried the invitation to Peary. Subtly Henson tried 
to make it clear that this was a command invitation, for it was 
important not to flout any of the Eskimo traditions. Peary, Lee, 
and Henson went to Ahnalka's igloo that evening. It was already 
crowded with the host's friends and relatives, but they made room 
for the honored newcomers. Peary wrote of that evening: 

... a walrus head . . . [was] the piece de resistance of the 
evening's feast. Placed in the midst of the eager group, one would 
carve lumps from the thick, gelatinous lips, another slice the rich 
tongue, another gouge an eye and, puncturing it with his knife, suck 
k as we suck the pulp from a grapeskin, while another, with a deftly 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 91 ] 

shaped bit of board, would extract the exquisite omelette of the brain, 
till finally the massive skull would be left as bare and white as if 
cleaned by ants or shrimps. 

... I doubt if Dante or Dore could have done justice to the 
scene: The air heavy with the peculiar flabby-musky odour of the 
lifeless yet fresh walrus blood and flesh; the glowing stove, the sullen 
red eye of the quintessence of all evil, filling the room with blood- 
shot gloom, through which showed the blood-smeared faces, white 
teeth, and glittering eyes of the group of fur-clad demons quarrelling 
over the massive skull; while from the background, hideous, mis- 
shapen deformities of webbed hands reached out for them; and from 
above, heavily mustached faces, with white-fanged mouths, glared 
at them. 16 

How differently Henson would have written of this banquet. 
He would have told of the laughter and jokes, the warm fellow- 
ship, the generous honor being done the great hunter. 

At the beginning of October, Peary, Henson, and Lee began a 
series of excursions onto the ice cap with the purpose of locating 
and re-marking their food caches to feed them during the spring 
march. The trip was a failure and dealt a shattering blow to their 
morale. They couldn't find the caches because they had been 
covered with snow. Desperately they quartered every inch of the 
cap where the caches had been, and searched for the tall poles 
that had been left as markers. 

Then, at last, they found one! It was not a six-foot pole; it 
was six inches! The cache was buried and frozen beyond re- 
covery. All the essential supplies for the spring expedition were 

The three men were dazed by the loss and returned to the 
Lodge with dragging steps. Peary wrote: 

The sole result of nine days of wasted time and effort had been to 
satisfy me beyond a doubt that all my essential supplies for the next 
spring's sledge journey, nearly a ton and a half in all, including every 
ounce of my alcohol and pemmican, were irrevocably and forever 
buried in the insatiate maw of the "Great Ice," and that all of the 
work of the past year had been completely blotted out. I was almost 

[ 92 ] AHDOOLO! 

stunned by my loss; I felt like a man shipwrecked upon an uninhabited 
shore, with nothing left him but the clothes upon his back. . . . 17 

For the next few days Peary was deep in his depression, and 
his mood naturally set the tone in the Lodge. Henson was less 
affected than Lee, for he had his Eskimo friends to visit, he had 
Kudlooktoo to care for. He had learned from the Eskimos that 
laughter is the best antidote for the poison of failure, but neither 
Peary nor Lee was easily converted to this point of view. When 
Henson made small jokes they looked at him almost pityingly, 
as if he was not bright enough to understand the seriousness of 
their situation. Henson finally concluded that things would have 
to get worse before they got better. He was right. 

Peary had given up the private room he had shared with his 
wife and now occupied the common room with his two subordi- 
nates. This sort of democracy in living was difficult for him; he 
was by nature a loner and did not take easily to the forced 
fraternity of bed, kitchen, and bath. But he was also a man of 
duty, and he performed one-third of the household chores, un- 
complainingly and efficiently. He expected the same attitude and 
performance from the other two men. 

There came a Wednesday when it was Hugh Lee's turn to 
cook. Lee was at the stove, Peary was reading, Henson was re- 
pairing the thongs on a snowshoe. The room was silent except for 
the slight sizzling sound of the whale fat in which some venison 
was being cooked. Whale fat is a difficult substance, for if not 
handled most carefully it has the tendency to ignite and burn in 
a smoky black flame that ruins food and makes the skillet 
difficult to clean. 

This was what now happened. The whale fat ignited and sent 
up a flame and a sulfurous cloud of smoke. Lee retreated a step, 
then looked at the burning pan with venomous eyes, advanced to 
grab it by the handle; then he flung it with all his strength across 
the room. It hit the bottom of the door, shattered the wood panel, 
and disappeared, smoking and hissing, into the snowbank beyond. 
Again there was silence, but this one was pregnant with the 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 93 ] 

emotions intensified by intimacy and isolation and defeat. Lee 
stood looking at the stove, breathing hard. Peary had dropped 
his book, his face flushed. Only Henson moved. He continued 
methodically to lace the thongs on the snowshoe* While the 
silence held, the Arctic air rushed in through the shattered door. 

The loss of self-control was something Peary found intolerable. 
He never allowed it to happen to himself, and he was determined 
it should not happen to any of his men. He opened his mouth to 
dress down Lee, but the boy looked so woebegone that he could 
not bring himself to speak. He picked up his book and went on. 

Lee now moved across the room, opened the door, and re- 
trieved the blackened skillet. Then he got hammer and nails and 
some wood from a packing box and repaired the door. At last 
he returned to the stove and made another start at cooking dinner. 
When it was finally served, it was eaten in silence. And the men 
went to bed in silence. And arose in it again the next morning. 

Henson made efforts at conversation but no one would pick 
it up and carry it on. Lee was now in the slough of guilt and 
self-pity. He would have preferred to have the commander bawl 
him out and have it over with. This way, it was as if Peary didn't 
even consider him worthy of discipline. He had acted like a 
child, and now Peary was treating him like one. He was feeling 
the lash of the terrible weapon of silence. And there was no 

As for Peary, once having ignored the outburst, he knew no 
way of coming back to it. And he was incapable of producing 
small talk to bury it. He, too, had feelings of guilt; he now 
believed he had shirked his duty by ignoring the incident. 

And so the moods deepened and proliferated. 

The following day it was Henson's turn to cook. He stood be- 
fore the stove thoughtfully, then, unobserved, tilted the skillet 
so that the walrus fat ignited. The flame and black smoke bal- 
looned up and he stepped back with an exclamation that brought 
Peary's and Lee's eyes upon him. Then he grabbed the skillet by 
the handle and flung it across the room where, with precise ac- 

[ 94 ] AHDOOLO! 

curacy, it shattered the new panel Lee had put in the door, and 
disappeared into the snowbank beyond. 

There was a moment of silent amazement, then a giggle from 
Lee, an answering one from Henson, and then all three men were 
roaring with laughter. And after the laughter came talk, blessed 

Laughter was what Peary had needed, not only to surmount the 
estrangement with Lee, but to sharpen his mind and refresh his 
spirit to take the big problem before them. That night he talked 
about it with his men. 

"We'll have to get back to first principles on rations," he said. 
"Tomorrow we'll take stock of the frozen venison and walrus 
meat and see how far it will go in place of the lost pemmican. 
We can substitute coal oil for the lost alcohol. I think we can pull 
together rations of tea, biscuits, oil, and raw meat for us and the 
dogs sufficient for two months on the trail. That is enough for 
the trip to and from Independence Bay under good conditions. 
If the conditions turn bad, we'll have to live off what we can find 
on the ice cap." 

All of them knew that game on the ice cap was nonexistent. 
The only living creatures they would find on the ice cap would 
be themselves and their dogs. 

April 1, 1895, was the target date for departure and as the 
winter waned and the period of constant daylight approached, 
the tempo of preparation increased. The Eskimo women were 
urged to complete the fur garments, and as each was finished it 
was hung outdoors in the forty-degree-below-zero weather to 
kill any body lice that had crept into the seams from the seam- 

Henson completed the sledges and gave them trial runs. During 
the march he was to drive the largest, a catamaran sledge and 
trailer which would carry a tent and all supplies for the return 
trip. The weight would be about 1,000 pounds and it wcmld be 
pulled by thirteen dogs. Two smaller sledges were also outfitted: 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 95 ] 

the Josephine to be driven by Peary, and the Long Serpent to be 
driven by Lee. 

Six Eskimos were to help the party get the sledges up the steep 
slopes to the moraine and onto the ice cap, and four of them were 
to go as far as the site of the big cache, 128 miles from the Lodge. 
It was hoped that the Eskimos' fear of Kokoyah would not force 
them to turn back before that cache, and it was prayerfully hoped 
that that cache could be found. Despite their failure to find the 
caches closer at hand, they were buoyed by hope that the big one 
would be sufficiently near the surface to be found and retrieved. 

The day before the departure, excitement ran through the 
camp. Henson, Lee, and Peary scrubbed themselves in their last 
baths, shaved, cut their hair short, and Peary even cut off his 
famous mustache. They turned in for a few hours' sleep. 

The morning of April 1 was clear and cold, good sledging 
weather. The men rose, put on their clean new clothes, ate break- 
fast, and then proceeded to batten down the Lodge. All the valu- 
able papers were put in a tin, fire-resistant box and stored under 
Peary's bunk. Supplies that were not to be taken on the trail were 
brought indoors from the snow tunnels and stored in the common 
room. The doors were closed and nailed shut. The company now 

The Eskimos stepped forward from their friends and families. 
There were Nooktah, Kardahsu, Annowkah, Soker, Nupsah, and 
Akpudisoahho. There was a total starting party of six sledges and 
sixty dogs. 

Peary took a last look around, then nodded to Henson that he 
could start the march. A small boy was standing shyly nearby; it 
was Kudlooktoo. Henson went up to him and put out his big hand. 
The boy took it, in American fashion, and smiled bravely. He was 
to stay with Ahnalka's wife. 

"Aksunai (good-by)," Henson said. 

"Aksimai" the boy replied. 

Then Henson turned away and the inarch began. 


Three days' inarch, with a few hours' sleep snatched between, 
brought the party up the face of the glacier, across the moraine, 
and finally onto the ice cap. They were in the wasteland, the 
frozen desert, the white prairie of excruciating light 

The sun revolved in the heavens without setting, sending down 
its brilliance to be reflected on the gleaming snow and ice, to be 
multiplied and intensified, to become shattering shards of light 
that danced in the pure, rarefied air. For a man to spend a day on 
this plain without protection for his eyes would mean blindness. 

Henson, Lee, and Peary wore the heaviest smoked sunglasses. 
The Eskimos wore their own protection wooden eyecups with a 
tiny slit cut in the middle of them. When sleeping, all of them 
wrapped a band of fur across their eyes to keep the light from 
penetrating even through closed lids. 

They pushed on into this inferno of whiteness, and at the end 
of the seventh march came to the site of the big cache, the place 
where Peary had been forced to turn back the year before, the 
place where he had deposited 1,400 pounds of pemmican. But 
there was no sign of it A painstaking search was carried out for 
twenty-four hours by the entire party, but with no success. Fail- 
ure to find the other caches had prepared them for this failure, to 

[ 96 ] 

(Underwood & Underwood) 

A moment of relaxation aboard 

the Windward in New York 

harbor as Peary and Henson 

prepare for the abortive 1898 

attempt on the Pole. 

The Pole was won! And the 
ordeal was to be forever marked 
on his face. 

(Stefansson Collection Dartmouth College) 

(Underwood & Underwood) 

Dr. Frederick A. Cook ex-Peary assistant, 
who claimed to have beaten Peary and Henson 
to the Pole. 

Robert E. Peary 
poses in his furs. 

(Bettmann Archive) 

Th. j-*- v (Uwttn/ao/l & 

The expedrtion ship Jtooiwfr dries her sails at Cape 
Sheridan during the final and successful expedition north. 

(Underwood & Underwood) 

Searching the horizon from the top of the world 
where every direction is south. 


The climax of a life! Flanked 
by his four Eskimo comrades, 
Henson stands before the 
American flag planted at the 
North Pole on April 7, 1909. 

(Underwood & Underwood) 

Peter Freuchen, noted Danish explorer and correspondent, 
welcomes Henson to membership in the Explorers Club. 

At last the White House! President Dwight 
Eisenhower receives Matthew and Lucy Henson on 
April 6, 1954, the anniversary of the discovery 
of the Pole. 

(Wide Work 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 97 ] 

a degree, but they still hoped against hope that the big one would 
be found. 

Peary took Henson aside for a sober discussion of the problem. 
"Matt, I really believed we'd find this one." 

"I can take the Eskimos for another search after they've had a 
little rest." 

Peary shook his head. "We've covered every inch of the area. 
The cache is down, down! We'll never find it, and we could 
never dig it out if we did find the marker. No, Matt, we've got 
to take a new look at our plans. This means that we go the rest of 
the way on frozen venison for us and frozen walrus meat for the 
dogs. We're a quarter way there; it's another four hundred miles 
to Independence Bay. Then if we find game we can cut north 
toward the Pole; if we don't we'll have to come five hundred miles 
back on what venison and walrus we have left on the sledges. It 
may not be enough." 

"What if it runs out?" Henson asked, more to himself than to 

Peary said quietly, "Then we eat the dogs." Both men thought 
a moment, then Peary said, "We can turn back now, Matt. What 
do you say?" 

"What do you think the chances are, Commander?" 

"I think we can make it." 

"All right, sir, I think so, too. Let's push on," 

"I'll speak to Lee and see how he feels." 

"The Eskimos won't go any farther." 

Peary clapped Henson on the shoulder and grinned. "You did a 
good job getting them this far." 

Lee, too, wanted to go forward and so Henson went to say 
good-by to his Eskimo friends. They were squatted in a circle and 
their faces were worried, for they had guessed his decision. 

Nooktah looked up and said, "Miy Paluk, you should come back 
with us." 

"No, I must go on with Pearyaksoah." 

"Kokoyah will not like it. What do you think happened to the 
food we look for today? Kokoyah buried it because he does not 

[ 98 ] AHDOOLO! 

want you in his land. If you go out there, he will eat you." 

Matt shook his head. "I do not believe in Kokoyah. I will prove 
to you he doesn't exist. I will go out there and I will come back." 

The circle of men murmured disbelief and looked sad. Nooktah 
said, "We do not understand why you go. Back there" he pointed 
back toward the Lodge "are seal and walrus and igloos and 
women and children and friends and good laughter. Why is it you 
go the other way? Why do you go out there where there is 

Here was a question that went to the core of the man. He didn't 
know how to answer it very well; he could only say, "I go to find 
out, Nooktah. You say there is nothing, but maybe you are wrong. 
I want to see what's there with my own eyes." He grinned at his 
circle of friends. "When I come back I'll tell you what I have 

The morning of April 8 the Eskimos turned back. Their sturdy 
figures became gradually smaller and smaller, and then disappeared 
over the horizon. The three Americans were alone on the ice cap. 
With them were forty-two dogs. 

The three men had covered about fifteen miles when Lee became 
sick and they made camp. Peary gave him medicine and put him 
to bed, then went to help Henson feed and tether the dogs. The 
moment the walrus meat was unloaded from the sledge and the 
dogs saw it, they set up a savage howl and made a dash for it, 
many of them pulling their stakes. Of this first feeding time, Peary 

The care of the forty-odd dogs then fell upon Matt and myself, 
and to keep a pack of forty ravenous Eskimo dogs in order during 
feeding time is something beyond the power of two men. We suc- 
ceeded in tying them as usual in groups of five to eight, to stakes 
driven in the snow about the camp, and Henson had nearly completed 
chopping up the daily ration of frozen walrus meat, while I, with 
whip in hand, tried to keep the yelping brutes from breaking loose. 
But it was impossible to be everywhere at once, and, while busy 
quieting one group, another, with a sudden combined rush, and the 
superhuman strength which the sight of food inspires in a hungry 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 99 ] 

Eskimo dog, tore up the stakes to which they were fastened, and 
dashed for the pile of meat. There was an instantaneous savage cry 
from every other dog, and in an instant every stake was broken or 
pulled up, and a howling avalanche of dogs swept through the camp 
and fell upon the meat. Each group being still fastened together by 
their traces, anything about the camp less firm than primeval rocks, 
such as projecting points of sledges, odometer, trailers, thermometer 
support, and so on, came to sudden grief. 

Whip and voice were equally unheeded, and Matt and myself were 
obliged to jump out from among the furious animals, to save our foot- 
gear from being torn to pieces by their savage snaps at the meat and 
each other. . . . Here, before us, were forty-two savage, powerful 
dogs, the flower of the king-dogs and trained bear-hunters of the trip, 
mad with the struggle for food and the attacks on each other, and 
inextricably tangled and bound together by their traces Kilkenny 
cats multiplied twenty-fold. 

Then came the straightening out of the snarl. The temperature was 
25 degrees below zero, and a strong wind was sweeping through the 
camp, loaded with a stinging drift of snow. Silently we went to work, 
and at the end of five hours had the Gordian knots untied and every 
dog secured, except one. He, tangled up and rendered helpless by 
the twisting traces, had been bitten by the others till he had gone mad 
with rage and pain, and, with bloodshot eyes, frothing at the mouth, 
and clashing teeth, bit at everything he could reach, until I was 
obliged to quiet him with a bullet. 18 

On April 12, the day following the struggle with the dogs, the 
party set out again, covering twelve miles. Lee claimed to feel 
better, but the truth was entered in his diary: "I am feeling quite 
sick, but I am better off with Peary and Matt than going back to 
the Lodge alone, but I am an awful drag on them. One more dog 
killed . . ," 19 

As they got under way Lee rode Henson's sledge, his own at- 
tached behind and his dogs added to the traces. This meant that 
Matt had to handle over twenty dogs in one all but unmanageable 
team. Soon a more serious problem faced the crippled party a 
storm arose. It came in degrees, each phase more awesome than 
the one before. 

[ 98 ] AHDOOLO! 

want you in his land. If you go out there, he will eat you." 

Matt shook his head. "I do not believe in Kokoyah. I will prove 
to you he doesn't exist. I will go out there and I will come back." 

The circle of men murmured disbelief and looked sad. Nooktah 
said, "We do not understand why you go. Back there" he pointed 
back toward the Lodge "are seal and walrus and igloos and 
women and children and friends and good laughter. Why is it you 
go the other way? Why do you go out there where there is 

Here was a question that went to the core of the man. He didn't 
know how to answer it very well; he could only say, "I go to find 
out, Nooktah. You say there is nothing, but maybe you are wrong. 
I want to see what's there with my own eyes," He grinned at his 
circle of friends. "When I come back I'll tell you what I have 

The morning of April 8 the Eskimos turned back. Their sturdy 
figures became gradually smaller and smaller, and then disappeared 
over the horizon. The three Americans were alone on the ice cap. 
With them were forty-two dogs. 

The three men had covered about fifteen miles when Lee became 
sick and they made camp. Peary gave him medicine and put him 
to bed, then went to help Henson feed and tether the dogs. The 
moment the walrus meat was unloaded from the sledge and the 
dogs saw it, they set up a savage howl and made a dash for it, 
many of them pulling their stakes. Of this first feeding time, Peary 

The care of the forty-odd dogs then fell upon Matt and myself, 
and to keep a pack of forty ravenous Eskimo dogs in order during 
feeding time is something beyond the power of two men. We suc- 
ceeded in tying them as usual in groups of five to eight, to stakes 
driven in the snow about the camp, and Henson had nearly completed 
chopping up the daily ration of frozen walrus meat, while I, with 
whip in hand, tried to keep the yelping brutes from breaking loose. 
But it was impossible to be everywhere at once, and, while busy 
quieting one group, another, with a sudden combined rush, and the 
superhuman strength which the sight of food inspires in a hungry 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 99 ] 

Eskimo dog, tore up the stakes to which they were fastened, and 
dashed for the pile of meat. There was an instantaneous savage cry 
from every other dog, and in an instant every stake was broken or 
pulled up, and a howling avalanche of dogs swept through the camp 
and fell upon the meat. Each group being still fastened together by 
their traces, anything about the camp less firm than primeval rocks, 
such as projecting points of sledges, odometer, trailers, thermometer 
support, and so on, came to sudden grief. 

Whip and voice were equally unheeded, and Matt and myself were 
obliged to jump out from among the furious animals, to save our foot- 
gear from being torn to pieces by their savage snaps at the meat and 
each other. . . . Here, before us, were forty-two savage, powerful 
dogs, the flower of the king-dogs and trained bear-hunters of the trip, 
mad with the struggle for food and the attacks on each other, and 
inextricably tangled and bound together by their traces Kilkenny 
cats multiplied twenty-fold. 

Then came the straightening out of the snarl. The temperature was 
25 degrees below zero, and a strong wind was sweeping through the 
camp, loaded with a stinging drift of snow. Silently we went to work, 
and at the end of five hours had the Gordian knots untied and every 
dog secured, except one. He, tangled up and rendered helpless by 
the twisting traces, had been bitten by the others till he had gone mad 
with rage and pain, and, with bloodshot eyes, frothing at the mouth, 
and clashing teeth, bit at everything he could reach, until I was 
obliged to quiet him with a bullet. 18 

On April 12, the day following the struggle with the dogs, the 
party set out again, covering twelve miles. Lee claimed to feel 
better, but the truth was entered in his diary: "I am feeling quite 
sick, but I am better off with Peary and Matt than going back to 
the Lodge alone, but I am an awful drag on them. One more dog 
killed . . ." 19 

As they got under way Lee rode Henson's sledge, his own at- 
tached behind and his dogs added to the traces. This meant that 
Matt had to handle over twenty dogs in one all but unmanageable 
team. Soon a more serious problem faced the crippled party a 
storm arose. It came in degrees, each phase more awesome than 
the one before. 

[ 100 ] AHDOOLO! 

First, formless clouds moved over the sun, making the sky dis- 
appear. Men and dogs moved through a gray nothingness no sun, 
no sky, no horizon, not even any snow. The gray light seemed to 
come equally from above and below, suspending them in a vac- 
uum. There was nothing the eye could rest on but themselves. 
Feet and snowshoes were sharply outlined, but they seemed to 
tread on nothingness. The sledge runners glided on the same 

The wind was gentle at first, hardly more than a breeze. Soon 
it increased in strength and whipped up the fine snow on the sur- 
face. The white opacity rose about a foot and a half, blanking out 
the sight of snowshoes; it was as if the men had been suddenly, 
painlessly truncated and were walking on the stumps of their legs. 
Peary called a halt, and as Matt rushed to tether the dogs while 
Peary and the sick Lee struggled to put up their tent, the wind 
rose and hurled coarser and coarser snow at them. In a matter of 
minutes it became a roaring, blinding, suffocating Niagara of 
snow, making it almost impossible to breathe. At last the men fell 
into the tent and huddled together while the storm attacked their 
poor shelter. 

The tent was entirely inadequate. The storm didn't rip it, but 
the cold invaded it, and when, after a few hours' sleep, Henson 
woke up he had a stiff, wooden feeling in his left cheek. He knew 
at once it had been frosted and he ckpped his hands to it to warm 
the flesh and bring back the circulation. 

"Commander! Commander!" he called. "Wake up." 
Peary came alert at once and saw Henson holding his cheek. 

"Yes, sir, but not badly. You all right?" 
Peary flexed his extremities. "No frost. Wake Lee." 
"Hugh . . . wake up. Hugh!" Henson called, shaking the body 
next to them. 

Lee came slowly awake. "Time to start?" 
"Soon. See how your hands and feet are. I frosted a cheek." 
Lee moved his fingers, then his toes, then a wondering look 

The Biography of Matthew A. Benson [ 101 ] 

came over his face. "My big toe"-he pointed to his left foot "it 
feels wooden." 

Without another word Henson knelt down and pulled off his 
boot and his woolen socks. The big toe was as white as if it were 
a plaster cast. Henson rubbed it briskly, but no color returned. 

Peary leaned over anxiously and said, "More than frosted, Fm 
afraid. Looks frozen." 

"We'll get some circulation back," Henson said grimly. He 
knelt before the reclining Lee, raised his own sealskin coat and 
placed Lee's foot on his bare belly, then pulled the coat back 
down. They crouched in this position for almost an hour, from 
time to time reaching up under Matt's coat to massage the ice- 
cold foot and toe. At last some streaks of red appeared to pene- 
trate through the marble flesh; the circulation was returning. 

That toe was to give Lee trouble the rest of the trip, however, 
and contribute to his incapacity, to the hated position of being a 
semi-invalid, a burden on his comrades. 

The storm raged throughout the rest of that day and the three 
of them remained huddled in the tent. None of them, not even 
Henson, knew how to make the Eskimo snow igloo that would 
have given them proper protection, even some comfort 

The dogs suffered greatly from the storm, and when it came 
time finally to hitch them up, two were found useless and had to 
be shot. Six more days of marches followed, the termination of 
each march being forced by the exhaustion of the dogs. On April 
20 only eight miles were covered. The dogs were simply not get- 
ting enough food to be able to pull the heavy loads over long 

Peary now took a desperate gamble. Though the supply of 
walrus meat was nearly exhausted, he fed the dogs double rations. 
With refreshed dogs they made marches of fifteen and ten miles 
during the next two days. But again they were faced with reduced 
rations, not only for dogs but for men. 

They were now at 7,500 feet elevation and approaching the 
long spine of Greenland that ran north and south. They ruth- 
lessly discharged all equipment not absolutely necessary; they iced 

[ 102 ] AHDOOLO! 

the runners of the sledges to reduce friction; they resorted to 
every possible device to get more mileage. The temperature fluc- 
tuated between ten and forty-five degrees below zero and the 
effect on the dogs at this altitude was marked. They were weak 
and panting and had little stamina. Nor did the men. Both Henson 
and Lee were now bleeding at the nose. 

The entries in Lee's diary during this period were few and 

Sunday, April 21. Our dog food is rapidly being devoured, and 
we are not making very rapid progress. . . . We have to make more 
or we won't have enough dog meat to finish the trip. 

Wednesday, April 24. This morning we discarded a lot of things we 
have decided to get along without. 

Thursday, April 25. ... my toe pained me so I could not stand 
it. ... I had frozen the big toe on my left foot . . . took a big dose 
of morphine. . . . 

Friday, April 26. ... Taking morphine all day long . . , 20 

The big event that took place on Friday, April 26, didn't get 
into Lee's diary. Henson had been breaking trail with his double 
team and double sledge, on which lay the sick Lee, and about two 
o'clock in the afternoon he heard Peary hail him from behind. He 
stopped the dogs and waited for Peary's team to catch up. 

There was excitement in Peary's voice when he said, "Matt, 
what do you notice about the weather?" 

Henson looked around at the featureless landscape. It was a piti- 
less white day with enough wind to stir the dusting of snow at 
their feet. Nothing seemed unusual. 

"The wind!" Peary insisted. "What do you notice about the 

Now Henson understood and he broke into a broad grin. "It's 
at our back instead of our face! " 

"Right! The wind is suddenly westerly. That means we've 
crossed the backbone, the continental divide!" 

Peary had learned on his previous ice-cap trips that the regular- 
ity of die winds was phenomenal. The direction was always radial 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 103 ] 

from the center of Greenland outward, and perpendicular to the 
nearest strip of coast. It was so steady as to be like a sheet of water 
descending the slopes of the Great Ice from the central dome out- 
ward to the coasts. Thus, the direction of the nearest land can be 
determined by the direction of the wind. They had faced into the 
wind up until this day; now they had the wind at their backs, for 
the nearest land was ahead, not behind them. 

After a moment of elation, understandably brief, they resumed 
the march. The improvement of the wind direction was more than 
offset by the fact that the wear and tear on the sledges had 
brought them to imminent collapse. Within an hour one of the 
runners of Henson's tent sledge broke off. Henson repaired it by 
using one of the runners from the trailer sledge, thus abandoning 
the trailer. This repair lasted but a few miles and again the runner 
broke, this time beyond repair. Now a pair of skis had to be 
sacrificed to furnish runners for the tent sledge. 

When they made camp that evening, Henson staked out the 
dogs and began to unpack their food. He looked at what was left. 
It was sufficient for a single meal. "Commander," he said to Peary, 
"starting tomorrow we'll have to start feeding the dogs to each 

The next few days saw the poorest of the dogs slaughtered and 
served up as food, thus reducing their number to seventeen. In the 
few days after that, the number of dogs was reduced to eleven, 
and of the eleven three could hardly walk, let alone pull the 
sledges. Now the men got into the traces with the dogs. And one 
of the men had little strength. 

Crippled, plucky Lee entered in his diary: "Monday, May 6. 
Nose and cheeks frozen repeatedly and covered with thick scabs, 
hair long and unbrushed. I have not washed. . . . My eyes are 
bloodshot from sunglare on the snow, and I walk lame from the 
frozen toe. It gives me a deal of pain, but I must walk just the 
same, and let it hurt." 21 

Now all food for the outward part of the trip had been con- 
sumed. Their situation was desperate. Peary took a reading of the 
sun's position and found they were at latitude 81 degrees, 14 min- 

[ 104 ] AHDOOLO! 

utes, and 5 seconds. They had to be near Independence Bay. 
Ahead they thought they saw the coastal land, but it might well 
be a mirage. If there was land, there could be game. But the party 
as a whole was used up. Neither Lee nor the majority of the dogs 
could go another step. If there was food up ahead, they could not 
go to it; it would have to be brought to them. 

As the three men sat beside their sledges, chewing on the raw, 
frozen venison, each thought his own thoughts: Lee measured his 
own physical reserve, determined not to flunk out; Peary thought 
darkly on his destiny; Henson, a less complicated man, thought on 
the practical aspects of survival. 

"I can take a gun and scout ahead to see if that is land," Henson 

Peary looked up, shook himself free of his brooding, and said, 
"No, if it is moraine it will be full of crevasses. Too dangerous 
for one man in a weakened condition. We'll make camp here and 
tomorrow the two of us will make a reconnaissance." 

They slept briefly, then rose to prepare for the trip to the dis- 
tant cloud bank that could mean land, or be a mirage. Henson 
said, "We should take the chopsie sledge, sir. It's the lightest and 
we'll have to pull it ourselves." Peary looked at him questioningly, 
and Henson said, "If that is land, and we get down to the moraine 
and don't find food, the dogs would be too weak to climb back 
up and we'd have to abandon them." 

Peary nodded his agreement, and the two of them, after making 
Lee as comfortable as possible in the tent, put themselves in the 
animal traces and pulled the small sledge behind as they headed 
toward the promising cloud. 


Tied to the sledge, their minds and bodies functioning on the 
animal level of savage hunger, Peary and Henson made their way 
over the remaining yards of the ice cap and came to the sight of 
earth. The land was not lush it consisted of the broken and rocky 
fragments of the earth's skeleton but it was land and they pressed 
feverishly toward it, their bloodshot eyes searching for game. 

They came first to a series of huge concentric crevasses, ranged 
like the benches in an amphitheater and running from the crest 
nearly to the foot of the ice slopes leading down to the moraine. At 
their feet was a series of ice mounds, two to three feet high, 
formed by the freezing of the air exhaled from the crevasses. 
These mounds were covered with a dusting of fine snow and the 
crevasses beneath were difficult to detect. 

The two men staggered onto the mounds and suddenly one of 
them disappeared. The snow mound had given way beneath 
Peary's feet and without a sound he had plunged downward. The 
mouth of the crevasse was narrow, and his shoulders had caught 
against the sides and suspended him. Beneath his dangling feet was 
a long drop and at the bottom jagged rocks to impale whatever 
came plummeting down upon them. 

Henson dropped on his stomach and inched forward until he 

C 105 ] 

[ 106 ] AHDOOLO! 

was within inches of Peary. Neither man spoke; the rasp of their 
labored breathing was the only sound. Henson had cut loose the 
rawhide trace that ran from his harness to the sledge, and now he 
slipped it under Peary's arms, fastened it, and began to crawl 
backward. The harness tightened around Henson's shoulders; the 
trace tightened around Peary's chest. There was not sufficient 
leverage to pull Peary out of the crevasse but enough to Jceep him 
from plunging downward if he slipped. At this impasse they lay 
still for several moments to gather strength. Then, at a signal from 
Henson, Peary began to work his way upward, and each inch 
gained was at the cost of the rawhide's cutting under his armpits 
as Henson crawled backward. 

After fifteen agonizing minutes Peary was waist-high out of the 
crevasse and lying forward on the surrounding snow. He was 
saved unless there was a new breakthrough. There was none, and 
soon the two men were lying side by side, breathing heavily with 
exertion and the stimulation of fear. 

Slowly they climbed to their feet, staggering forward. Within 
minutes Henson disappeared. The mouth of this crevasse was 
narrower and he sank only to his waist. The same procedure of 
rescue was followed and experience gave them greater efficiency, 
but no less fear. Among the dangers was that of a broken leg. Six 
hundred miles from Anniversary Lodge, starving, with one sledge 
and no dogs, a broken leg would be fatal. 

Still, hunger made them fatalistic and they walked straight 
ahead without searching out or trying to avoid the snow-covered 
crevasses. At last they came to the moraine, a rubble of rocks. 

"Rocks once more, thank God!" Henson exclaimed as he 
stepped off the ice. 

A short time later, with their footgear cut to ribbons and their 
feet bruised and bleeding, they longed for the smoothness of the 

On the moraine they found the tracks of Arctic hare and old 
droppings from musk ox, but that was all. The game had been 
here, but when? A week ago, a month ago, six months ago? 
Exhausted and discouraged, they turned back toward camp. It 
was twenty-five miles away. When they finally staggered into 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 107 ] 

camp they received a weak but welcoming wave from Lee, who 
lay in the tent, white-faced with illness. Two more of the dogs 
had died. 

After a small ration of frozen deer meat, they dropped down to 
sleep. Through Henson's drugged mind ran the words of Nook- 
tah, spoken just before they parted: "You go out there and 
Kokoyah will eat you." He couldn't help wondering if the Eski- 
mos were right after all. Perhaps there 'was a devil named 
Kokoyah who wanted no man on his ice cap. And perhaps he was 
indeed eating the three men who defied him. Henson smiled to 
himself ironically and thought that Kokoyah was a slow eater, 
certainly. He almost wished he'd hurry it up a bit. 

Four hours later they awoke, had a ration of deer meat, and 
then Peary reviewed their situation. The purpose of the trip, he 
said, was to determine if the ice cap ran northward to the Pole, 
and if so, to follow it as far as possible. Obviously, they would 
have to surrender the hope of reaching the Pole, but he was reluc- 
tant to turn back without discovering if the Greenland land mass 
did indeed run northward to the top of the world, or if it ended 
in some sea. 

They had come this far, and only a few miles more might reveal 
the ice cap's secret. Were they to turn back now? Perhaps they 
should. They had enough rations to see them back, or almost 
back, to Anniversary Lodge. The dogs had no food and would 
die, of course, but there was a fighting chance they could walk 
the 600 miles on the deer meat left. But they would have to start 
at once, if they were to go. 

"On the other hand," Peary said, "there is musk ox some place 
in the moraine around Independence Bay. We could stake every- 
thing on a final hunt. And it would be everything. For if we went 
on and then failed to find the musk ox, we could never get back 
to the Lodge." He paused, looked intently at his two comrades 
for a moment, then said quietly, "Fm not going to make the deci- 
sion. I leave it up to you." 

After a moment's pause Henson said, "Let's make the hunt." 

Lee, sick as he was, gallantly seconded Henson. 

Peary nodded, flushed with gratitude. To cover his emotion he 

[ 108 ] AHDOOLO! 

stood up abruptly and said, "We will name this bit of ice and 
snow 'Camp Resolution.' " Then he went about the business of 
harnessing the dogs to the sledge. They started north again, this 
time irrevocably committed. 

Of this decision Peary wrote: "I felt . . . that in that cool, 
deliberate moment we took the golden bowl of life in our hands, 
and that the bowl had suddenly grown very fragile." 22 

They approached land on a more northerly course, and when 
they came to the moraine the elevation was higher and gave them 
a good view of Independence Bay and the distant shore. Hardly 
had they arrived at this vantage point than a storm descended 
upon them, a Niagara of wind and snow poured over them in 
their poor shelter, and they were held prisoners for two days. 

On May 15 the storm ended and, leaving Lee in camp, Henson 
and Peary took the dogs, the guns and ammunition, three days' 
half-rations, and set out on the hunt that would save or doom 

Again they had to make the tortuous descent over the crevasses 
that had eroded the descending face of the glacier. They headed 
toward a shallow canyon where Peary and Astrup had killed musk 
ox in 1892, and after twelve hours of steady marching they came 
to it. There was not a sign of game. This was the valley where 
Peary had staked his hopes. The two of them made a reconnais- 
sance of the valley, but there was nothing. 

They could only conclude that the animals were migratory. 
There was no way of knowing where the musk ox might now be, 
or when they'd return this way. 

At this point two of the undernourished dogs, completely 
played out from the descent from the ice cap and die march over 
the moraine, developed piblokto and died in convulsions. Their 
bodies were fed to the remaining dogs. 

There was nothing to do but keep walking. There was no pur- 
pose in returning to camp, no purpose in sitting in the valley 
empty of game. The next valley might be empty, and the next 
and the next, but there was nothing to do but keep walking until 
it was no longer possible to walk. 

The Biography of Matthew A. Benson [ 109 ] 

In the midst of the walking Peary saw a snow-covered rock 
move. He blinked his bloodshot, watering eyes. The rock moved 
again. Then it took the form of an Arctic hare. 

"Matt . . . Matt!" he called weakly. "A hare. For God's sake, 
shoot it." 

Henson was an excellent shot; that was why Peary turned to 
him in this moment of crisis and hope. Henson brought his gun to 
his shoulder, and the barrel wavered uncontrollably. He dropped 
to the ground, rested the gun on his knees, but though the gun 
was steadier, now his eyes began to blur. He fired, and the hare 
looked up quizzically and jumped off a few steps. Henson ripped 
off his sunglasses, stared hard against the cruel glare of the sun 
and snow, and fired again. The hare leaped into the air and fell 
dead. They pulled it apart and ate it, red and raw. 

Here was the first full meal they had had since the Eskimos had 
left them, thirty-five days before, the first meal containing the 
proper nourishment that could fit a man for a full day's work. As 
they finished the last of the rabbit, it began to snow and they lay 
down to sleep, unmindful of the drifts that built up around their 
bodies. Henson thought to himself that they had tricked Kokoyahu 
But maybe Kokoyah had tricked them? Had he given them a 
rabbit, given them strength to continue a hunt that would end in 
failure? Was he teasing them? 

Henson didn't believe in Kokoyah, of course; it was just a game 
he played. It was a game that he couldn't seem to help playing. It 
was easier to fight against something than against nothing. Per- 
haps this was the wisdom in the Eskimo legend. 

Peary and Henson had, indeed, outwitted Kokoyah, for the 
next day they found musk ox. First they came upon a track, but 
it was so indistinct that they didn't allow themselves to believe 
their eyes. Still, their hearts responded and they pushed on excit- 
edly. Then they came upon droppings . . . fresh ones! The ani- 
mals were nearby! 

Breasting a ridge, they saw a cluster of small black spots in the 
next valley. Glasses revealed the spots to be a herd of musk ox 
beginning their midday siesta. The herd numbered twenty-two 

[ 110 ] AHDOOLO! 

cows and calves lying down while an old bull promenaded slowly 
near them. Two other bulls dozed nearby. Henson immediately 
tethered all the dogs so they couldn't run and alert the herd. 

The two men were trembling with excitement as they con- 

"We can't shoot from here," Henson said. "They're too far 

Peary nodded. "There's nothing to do but rush them. They may 
hold their ground or they may break." 

"Or," added Henson, "they may charge us." 

"They may," Peary said. 

A charging herd of musk ox would mean certain death for the 
men. They could not hope to shoot all the animals before being 
overrun and trampled. But death pressed in from so many sides 
that this aspect of it didn't seem any more threatening than the 

Taking a deep breath and gathering what strength they had 
left, they charged the herd. Henson fired as he ran, his prayer 
speeding with the bullets. A bull sank to his haunches. Peary fired 
from the hip. Another one sank slowly down, blood gushing from 
just behind the foreshoulder. A third dropped, shaking a shaggy 
head and bellowing in anger and pain. Now the herd broke and 
the two men ran in pursuit, guns blazing. 

Suddenly a wounded cow turned and lowered her head, her 
sharp horns glistening in the sun. Peary was almost upon her and 
his gun was empty. As he fumbled to reload, she charged him. 

"Matt!" he cried out. 

The enormous head with the small red eyesfiwas almost upon 
him when there was the crack of a rifle. She staggered, tried to 
come on to gore the defenseless enemy before her, but couldn't 
make it. As she toppled over, Peary rose slowly to his feet and 
turned to look gratefully at Matt. 

"It was my last bullet," Henson said with a wry grin. 

Back in his lonely camp, Hugh Lee kept up daily entries in his 
diary. On Saturday, May 18, he wrote: 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 111 ] 

This is the fourth day that Lt. Peary and Matt have been away. 
They will be pretty hungry unless they have found musk-oxen, for 
they took but three days 1 food. ... It is getting quite cloudy, and 
I'm afraid we're going to have a storm . . . would like to have them 
back before it begins. They have no tent, and very little in the way of 
sleeping gear, and they may suffer a great deal if it storms. . . . 
Something may have happened to Lt. Peary and Matt that [would] 
make me a solitary sojourner in this desolate land, but I will try not 
to think of that yet. 

Sunday, May 19. Last night, a little before midnight, I heard 
Matt's voice singing at the top of his lungs the sweetest song I ever 
heard. I started the lamp, for I know hot tea would be in demand. 
Then I went to greet them. 23 

Musk oxen made it possible for Peary to carry out his geo- 
graphical observations and he discovered that the Greenland ice 
cap was not at all the "imperial highway" to the North Pole. 
Running east from Independence Bay was water that appeared to 
terminate Greenland. . . . They were on an island, a gigantic 
island to be sure, but one that did not afford easy access to the 
North Pole. That was what Peary had come to find out. 

Now the problem was to get three men back over the ice cap 
to Anniversary Lodge 600 miles away. They had a broken sledge, 
a few worn dogs, and an inadequate supply of food, including the 
heavy musk-ox meat. 

It became a race with death that was won by the narrowest 
margin. One after another of the remaining dogs wore out and 
had to be destroyed. The men pulled the sledge themselves, and 
their condition became not much better than the dogs*. Lee had 
been suffering from constipation which had turned to diarrhea. 
His illness grew worse until he was unable to keep anything on 
his stomach. He became progressively weaker. On June 9 he was 
so weak he had to lie down to rest, and when he tried to get up, 
he was unable to do so and the other two men were nearly a mile 
ahead. He wrote: 

It did not seem to me as though I could overtake them, as I could 
hardly drag one foot behind the other, and I ky down and watched 

[ 112 ] AHDOOLO! 

them going farther and farther away from me, Peary in the lead, 
followed by the dogteam and Matt walking beside the sledge. 

Finally Peary looked around and saw me lying on the snow. He 
halted the team and started to come back to me. I could not bear to 
think of him after he had covered that mile coming back to me and 
then having to retrace it again, so I staggered to my feet and mo- 
tioned to him to stay where he was. 

Eventually I got to them and dropped down on the snow. I told 
Peary to go on without me, as I was unable to travel and they could 
not carry me on the sledge. I told them delay would endanger their 
lives, so it would be foolish for them to stop. I told them goodbye 
and wished them good luck, telling them I was finished. 

Peary said: "We will have no more of that kind of talk. We will 
all get home or none of us will. A rest would do us all good anyway, 
and we will camp here for a day and see what the situation is at the 
end of that rime." 24 

They camped and Peary and Henson took turns nursing Lee, 
seeing that he didn't get more frostbite and that he hourly took 
cups of liquid with beef peptonoids and brandy in it. At the end 
of twenty-four hours he was able to stand and walk. The march 
was resumed. 

They had a hundred more miles to go. 

On the last camp, from where they could make out the sum- 
mits of the Whale Sound mountains, they had the very last of their 
rations a cup of tea with canned milk and four biscuits. One dog 
remained alive. Henson fed him a pair of sealskin boots and a few 
yards of rawhide line. 

The next day they made Anniversary Lodge. Peary wrote: 

"Even should I in the hereafter be permitted to gaze upon the 
glory of the Golden Gty, the sight of its splendour will not out- 
burn the peerless view that met my blurred eyes as I rounded the 
last angle of the rocks and saw before me ... Food. Rest. 
Heaven." 25 

It was June 25. They had been on the ice cap eighty-six days, 
walked 1,600 miles, been near death several times, but they had 
survived. Kokoyah had been disproved, or at least defeated. Now 
they lay in their bunks and slept, and awoke to eat, and slept again. 

The Biography of Matthew A. Benson [ 113 ] 

And awoke for longer, more clearheaded periods during which 
they thought on what had happened. 

It became clear to Peary that young Lee's physical condition 
would not allow him to return to Arctic exploration, which was a 
pity because his temperament was right and his courage bound- 
less. No, on future expeditions he would have to rely increasingly 
on Henson. He began to realize how inextricably they were really 
tied together. 

It wasn't just that Henson had twice saved his life there was no 
sentiment involved but the sober realization that he had never 
had a man on the trail quite like Henson: strong, tenacious, skill- 
ful, and above all cheerful. It was not a mindless grinning, but a 
sort of happy fatalism. Henson was the true adventurer, a man 
eager to pit himself against the storm when the outcome could 
only be in doubt. 

Peary and Henson complemented each other. Henson was the 
artisan, the dogteam driver, the carpenter, tinkerer, hunter. Peary 
was the intellectual, the dreamer and philosopher, the bold strat- 
egist. Both men were brave; both were gamblers in a game they 
could not leave, whatever the losses. 

It was -not easy for Peary to accept this new relationship. If 
it had been feasible he would have surrounded himself with 
fraternity brothers from Bowdoin College (he carried the Delta 
Kappa Epsilon fraternity flag with him on his expeditions) . In the 
person of an uneducated Negro there had appeared the qualities 
he so desperately needed but had largely failed to find among the 

Typical of Peary, once he had made a decision as to what was 
right and necessary, nothing could sway him. No amount of criti- 
cism, and there was to be much, could alter his determination to 
have Henson at his side. Henceforth, in his writings he praised 
Henson highly and referred to him as "my faithful colored as- 
sistant." He couldn't bring himself to drop the word "colored," 
but he steadfastly and courageously clung to the word "as- 

[ XIII ] 

The relief ship Kite appeared on schedule, and Henson nailed 
shut all the windows and doors of Anniversary Lodge. He said 
good-by to his Eskimo friends and to Kudlooktoo, assuring them 
he would return, if not to this Lodge, at least to Greenland, to the 
North. Though Peary had spoken of no future plans, he knew 
the man. 

On the return trip Peary insisted on stopping in Melville Bay to 
take aboard two of the saviksue (meteorites) he had* previously 
located. Returning defeated in his effort toward the Pole, he 
wanted at least to deliver these important minerological speci- 
mens to America. 

They were almost back to New York before he said to Hen- 
son, quite casually, "The next trip will have to be longer. We 
need to, establish a base and then work out of it for at least four 
years. With sufficient gear and supplies we are certain to make 
the Pole in that period. I'll start raising funds the minute we get 
home." * 

Henson grinned. "That's one department I can't help much in." 

"You'll come back north with me. Matt?" 

"Yes, sir." 

4 T don't know how long it will be before I can get the backing 

C 114 ] 

The Biography of Matthew A. Benson [ 115 ] 

for the next expedition. I'll try and find you a job in the mean- 

"Don't worry about me. I'll find something." 

When the Kite arrived in New York harbor the returning ex- 
plorers were greeted, if not as conquering heroes, at least as brave 
men who had spent time in a fascinating wilderness. Crowds came 
aboard to look at the equipment and trophies, but none was more 
eager and excited than a plump little man who was a curator of 
the Museum of Natural History. He had commissioned Peary to 
bring back northern flora and fauna and artifacts. He looked over 
the hides of musk ox and walrus and hare, rubbing his hands in 

"Excellent specimens," he said, beaming on Peary. "Excellent 
. . . excellent. And such a deft job of skinning. All too often the 
skins are butchered, but you, sir, did a magnificent job." 

"I didn't do them," Peary said. "My assistant, Matt Henson, 
did the skinning/' 

The curator looked at Matt in surprise. "You did this work?" 

"Yes, sir." 

"Have you ever done taxidermy?" 

"No, but if I can skin animals I imagine I could stuff them. 

"It occurs to me that you can be of great assistance in mount- 
ing these specimens. We plan an Arctic exhibit, with the native 
wild life mounted realistically before painted backgrounds. If 
you'd like to give us a hand, I'll be happy to give you a job." 

"I'll take the job," Henson said with a grin. 

In the spring of 1896 Henson took a leave of absence from the 
museum to go north with Peary to bring back the big Agnighito 
meteorite, and when this ended in failure, went north with him on 
the same mission in 1897, which was a success. 

His work at the museum was interesting, and it served the im- 
portant purpose of killing time and supplying food and shelter 
until the next assault on the Pole. But also, it plunged him back 
into the old problem of Negro-white relations. One of the friends 
he made was a Negro named George Gardner. Gardner was an 

[ 116 ] AHDOOLO! 

intelligent and race-conscious man and greatly admired Henson. 
One evening at his apartment he burst out, "Matt, I'm so glad 
you're going to stick with Peary; It's important you do this for 

our race." 

"Our race?" Matt repeated, confused. 

"Of course, of course! Don't you see what a tribute it would be 
to all Negroes if you are able to get to the Pole? Think, man, 
what it means to a minority to have one of its members a national 

"I hadn't thought much about that," Henson said. 

"You haven't thought about the race problem?" Gardner de- 
manded, aghast. 

Henson was embarrassed. "Yes, in a way, of course. But you 
see" he grinned apologetically "in the North us Eskimos are in 
the majority. I guess when you're in the majority you just don't 
think much about the problem." 

Peary had little trouble raising the money for the next expedi- 
tion, or for the series of them that followed over the next eleven 
years. By this time he had become a national hero and his deter- 
mination to "capture the Pole for America" was a patriotic project 
in which millions of men and women vicariously participated. 
Here was adventure and heroism and competition with foreigners, 
all the elements necessary to call forth a great emotional out- 

Just as in the mid-twentieth century the probing of space by 
the astronauts was to bring thrills and pride to every American, so 
at the turn of the century the invasion of the Arctic was avidly 
followed by an entire nation. And in Peary's time the Arctic 
seemed as remote and mysterious and beckoning as does outer 
space today. If John Glenn or some other astronaut were to bring 
back a man from Mars, the astonishment would be some greater, 
but not much, than when Peary and Henson brought back the 
first Eskimos, 

On January 12, 1897, Peary was awarded the Cullom Gold 
Medal of the American Geographical Society. He traveled to Eng- 
land to receive the Royal Geographical Society's Patron's Gold 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 117 ] 

Medal. He was given numberless testimonial dinners and ban- 
quets, and in 1898 twenty-five prominent and wealthy Americans 
formed the Peary Arctic Club and promised to underwrite the 
costs involved in his assaults on the Pole. 

In 1898, when he again prepared to sail north, Peary was the 
subject of an outpouring of poetry. Elsa Barker, in a poem en- 
titled "The Frozen Grail," wrote: 

What shall prevail against the spirit of man, 
When cold, the lean and snarling wolf of hunger, 
The threatening spear of ice-mailed Solitude, 
Silence and space and ghosdy-f ooted Fear 
Prevail not? Dante in his frozen hell, 
Shivering, endured no bleakness like the void 
These men have warmed with their own flaming will, 
And peopled with their dreams. 

Richard Le Gallienne wrote: 

Peary, Godspeed! 

I hardly know 

The vast and intricate significance 

Of all that snow 

To which you go; 

I only understand 

A brave man dares again. 

When heroes fight 

Who asks his trivial why 

So that they fight like heroes. 

There were no medals struck off for Henson, of course, and no 
poems written about him. The few occasions his name did appear 
in the press it was linked to the stereotyped "Peary's Negro serv- 
ant." But the men who backed the expedition knew his worth, 
and when the list of personnel in the new expedition was pub- 
lished, it gave Matthew Henson as "assistant." 

This time Peary planned a sustained assault on the Pole. He had 
sufficient funds and supplies so that if he didn't win his objective 
the first year, he would stay in the North and try for the prize 

[ 118 ] AHDOOLO! 

the second year. If that failed, he would try the third year, and 
again the fourth. He would sail a ship right up through the ice- 
choked Kane Basin and Kennedy Channel to establish a base on 
the very shore of what he called the "Polar Sea." Then he had 
but to march over the ice cap to the Pole and back. He could not 
conceive of failing four times in a row. 

Peary's "Polar Sea" was actually that part of the Atlantic Ocean 
north of the land masses of Greenland and Ellesmere Island. As 
opposed to the Antarctic, which is land, the Arctic is a variety 
of oceans and seas on which floats a massive and permanent ice 
cap. When Peary spoke of entering upon the Polar Sea, or the 
Arctic Sea, he meant he was advancing over this ice cap toward 
the Pole. 

In the midsummer of 1898 Peary and Henson sailed north to 
Etah, an Eskimo settlement on the coast of Greenland north of the 
old headquarters of both Red Cliff House and Anniversary 
Lodge. There they had a reunion with their old friends, took 
them and their dogs on board, and headed north into the Kane 
Basin. But on August 18 their ship, the Windward, was caught in 
a gigantic ice floe and imprisoned throughout the winter. 

This meant that the expedition would now have to trek supplies 
400 miles over the ice to reach a base on the shore of the Polar 
Sea to which Peary had hoped to sail! Peary and Henson reso- 
lutely faced up to the job and began moving supplies, Eskimos, 
and dogs to the western shore of the Kane Basin, establishing 
a temporary base at Cape D'Urville on Ellesmere Island. 

The long Arctic winter had now settled over the expedition but 
it would be possible to sledge supplies northward during the 
period of the moons. Consulting his charts one night, Peary said 
to Henson, "Matt, we can make it to the Polar Sea in two stages 
instead of one. About two hundred fifty miles north of here is 
Fort Conger, Greely's old base." 

'Would his buildings still be standing?" Matt asked. 

"No one knows, but they might be. As soon as the December 
moon arrives, we'll start sledging to Fort Conger. By double-bank- 
ing we should be able to get all our equipment there by spring; 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 119 ] 

then we'll be in a much better position to strike for the ice cap." 

This was a fateful decision. Not only was the journey to be 
made in terrible cold and partly in darkness, not only did it come 
near to ending Peary's career, but the selection of Fort Conger 
as a base was to result in Peary's writing words about the Greely 
expedition that would, eleven years later, bear bitter fruit during 
the Cook controversy. 

Back in the summer of 1881, as part of the International Polar 
Year, the United States had sent north an expedition under the 
direction of the Army and commanded by Major Adolphus W. 
Greely. It was an expedition of unrelieved tragedy, marked by 
executions and death by starvation. The major, two lieutenants, 
one doctor, ten sergeants, one corporal, and nine privates were 
put ashore at Discovery Harbor, high up on Ellesmere Island, and 
were promised a relief ship the following year. That ship couldn't 
make it through the ice. A second relief ship was sent north but 
that, too, failed to penetrate the Kane Basin. 

In the fall of 1883 Greely broke camp at Fort Conger and be- 
gan to march southward, hoping to meet any ship that might be 
trying to reach him. The men froze, starved, were lost, died one 
by one. When the rescue partly finally reached them, Greely was 
the only commissioned officer left and there were only six other 
pathetic survivors barely alive. 

When Peary made his decision to march for Fort Conger, 
Greely was back home, a General in the Army and a hero to the 
nation. And he was a proud and jealous man. He was to become 
furious over Peary's criticism of his expedition. 

On December 29 Peary and Henson, with light sledges and 
four Eskimos, started north. On midnight of January 6 they 
came upon the dilapidated, snowdrifted, but still erect and tar- 
paper-covered buildings of Fort Conger. Henson started the stove 
in the officers' quarters and then lighted the range in the kitchen. 
By the light of the fires they looked around the fateful quarters. 

The place was littered with a heartbreaking array of personal 
belongings: photographs of wives and children, diaries, good- 

[ 120 ] AHDOOLO! 

luck charms, bits of clothing, all left behind to testify to the 
tragedy that had stalked these men sixteen years ago. 

As they inspected the quarters Peary suddenly stood quite still, 
his head slightly to one side as if listening for a distant sound. 

"Matt . . ." 

"Yes, Lieutenant?" 

"There's a wooden feeling in my feet." 

Matt looked quickly at him, then tried to match the calm tones 
just spoken. "Sit down and let me take off your kamiks." OS 
came the boots, and then the soft skin socks beneath, and finally 
the wool beneath that. Both feet were marble-white, badly frosted. 
At once Matt fell to his knees in front of Peary, pulled up his 
own clothes, and put the iced feet against the warm, dark skin of 
his belly. He held them there for an hour, from time to time rub- 
bing the feet with his hands. Slowly the color came back to the 
blanched feet, and with it came die awakening of the nerves, 
causing Peary to clamp his teeth together. But the toes did not re- 
sume their natural pinkness; they turned blue-black as the blood 
went into the lifeless tissue. 

Henson bathed the feet in a solution of iodine crystals found 
in Greely's medicine chest, then ordered Ahnidloo and Sipsoo, two 
of the Eskimos who squatted glumly on the floor, to make up a 
cot with fur robes. He lifted Peary in his arms and carried him 
to the cot. 

From January 6 to February 18 Peary lay on his back in the 
dreary camp while Henson nursed him. He was racked with 
pain from his frozen feet, but the mental anguish was far greater. 
If he lost his toes his entire balance on snowshoes would be af- 
fected. Without snowshoes a man couldn't get to the North Pole. 
After trying and suffering for so many years, was he to be de- 
feated in this bleak camp of death willed him by Greely? He 
brought to bear upon himself all the force of will and determina- 
tion he could gather. 

In the midst of his agony he grabbed up a pencil and wrote on 
the wall above his coat, "Vimn invenian out -faciam" Then he 
threw the pencil across the room. During the next day Henson 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 121 ] 

looked at the strange words several times, then finally asked what 
they meant. 

Peary explained they were first written by the Latin philosopher 
Annaeus Seneca who was born in 4 B.a The words? "I shall find 
a way or make one." 

At the end of six weeks Peary still could not stand, the toes 
were still black, there would be no miracle of recovery, Seneca 
or not. He faced this fact as he faced all defeats, with a cold and 
angry briskness. He said, "Matt, I've got to get back to the ship 
and have the doctor cut off these toes. Can you get me there?" 

"Yes, sir, I can," Matt said. 

Henson lashed Peary firmly to a sledge and set out from Fort 
Conger for the Windward, 250 miles away. The ice was a rubble 
of vicious peaks and crevasses and the temperature averaged fifty- 
six degrees below zero. The sledge slid and toppled, but Henson 
pushed and heaved and cried at tie dogs and Eskimos and forced 
them onward. In eleven inarches, averaging 22.75 miles, they made 
the ship. 

On March 13 the doctor operated on Peary, removing all but 
the little toe on each foot. A man without toes would find it dif- 
ficult to keep his balance on a city street; to do so in the Arctic 
would seem impossible. 


News of Peary's condition was sent back to the New York mem- 
bers of the Peary Arctic Club and all of them assumed this to be 
the end of the expedition. They were wrong. Within an incredibly 
short time after the operation Peary and Henson were again 
sledging supplies northward to the advance base at Fort Conger. 
If Henson hadn't been strong enough to handle a sledge on which 
the invalid Peary was lashed, or skillful enough to handle the dog- 
team, the trips could not have been made. If Peary had not had 
the iron will, the trips could not have been made. Here, as in previ- 
ous crises, the two men's divergent talents and skills combined to 
form the necessary whole. 

Fort Conger was reached on April 28; the return trip to the 
ship was completed on July 28. The first year of the four-year 
expedition was drawing to a close without their ever having 
been out on the Polar ice cap. Still, they had established a con- 
tinuous line of depots between the ship and Fort Conger, and 
they had established the fact that musk oxen abounded in the 
Conger area. 

On August 2 the Windward was finally released from the ice 
and immediately got up steam to escape southward before being 
caught for another winter. Peary and Henson were left behind in 

C 122 ] 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 123 ] 

Etah, Greenland, where they spent the winter living with the Es- 
kimos. During that winter Henson and his Eskimo friends sledged 
additional supplies across the frozen waters of Kane Basin to the 
western shore and northward to Fort Conger. 

The spring assault on the Pole was undertaken by Peary in 
March. He joined Henson at Fort Conger on March 28, 1900, 
noting in his journal: "The process of breaking in the tendons and 
muscles of my feet to their new relations and the callousing of 
the amputation scars has been disagreeable." 28 

That was, no doubt, an understatement. 

On April 9 seven sledges turned eastward across the Kennedy 
Channel and headed toward the northern coast of Greenland which 
was to be the juniping-off point for the ice cap. The Eskimos be- 
gan to weaken in their will as they got near the frozen sea; they 
had never been on it and believed it was the abode of evil spirits. 
Soon there were only Peary, Henson, and the Eskimo Ahm- 
mahlakoto left in the party, and the dogs began to die at an un- 
precedented rate. Circumstances were again combining to baffle 
and frustrate Peary and Henson. 

At last they reached the most northern part of land in the world, 
the tip of Greenland, which Peary named after one of his financial 
backers, Cape Morris K. Jesup. 

The ice northward, out on the sea, was in a frightful condition, 
jammed and broken into mountainous ridges. The party had the 
strength to travel onto it but a little way. They reached the lati- 
tude of 8? degrees, 50 minutes north. Then they turned back. 

The second attempt of the projected four had failed. 

When they returned to Fort Conger on June 10, the summer 
thaw had set in and opened stretches of water, preventing them 
from going back south and east to Etah. In consultation, Peary 
and Henson decided to stay through the winter at Fort Conger 
and try to live off the land. Henson's skill with the rifle and the 
prevalence of musk ox saved them from starvation that winter. 

On April 5, 1901 the third attempt was launched. Peary, Hen- 
son, one Eskimo, two sledges, and twelve dogs started north. This 
attempt was brave to the point of f oolhardiness. Neither men nor 

[ 124 ] AHDOOLO! 

animals were in condition to win this gamble. Supplies and equip- 
ment were inadequate; morale was low. At Lincoln Bay, with the 
Polar ice cap beckoning just beyond, the strength of all failed 
simultaneously and they turned back. 

The Peary Arctic Club sent the Windward north again that 
spring with fresh supplies for the stubborn pair, and followed her 
up with the Erik. Now there was an abundance of equipment and 
food, but as the early spring of 1902 approached, a new problem 
arose the Eskimos began to balk at going north again. 

They were at Fort Conger, it was March 23, and the drive to 
tjie Pole was to start the following day. Suddenly the Eskimos sat 
down sullenly beside their sledges, refusing to pack them. "What 
is it?" Peary demanded of Henson. "What's gotten into them?" 

"It's that damned devil of theirs," Henson said. "The frozen sea 
is supposed to be the home of the special devil, a character named 
Tahnusuk. And they don't want to visit him." 

"Send them to me," Peary snapped. 

The Eskimos filed into the common room and stood dutifully 
before their commander. They were a little shamefaced, and 
Peary started out with a fatherly tone: 

"This year there is plenty of food for you and your dogs. 
When we return I will give you rifles and bullets and knives so 
you can be great hunters and always be sure of plenty of food 
for your families." 

One of the Eskimos said, "That is no use to us if Tahnusuk does 
not let us come back, if Tahnusuk eat us up." 

"There is no Tahnusuk!" Peary burst out. "Can't you under- 
stand that? There just isn't any Tahnusuk!" 

The Eskimos stood in silence, unmoved. Centuries of native 
lore was not going to be banished by a mere statement from a 
kabloona. Peary paced the room, angrily searching for the key 
to these people. He swung around to face them, crying again, "It 
is all in your imagination. There is no devil out there waiting to 
eat you. Believe me! " 

One of the Eskimos stepped forward and said, "You should 
know the power of Tahnusuk. Three times he has warned you 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 125 ] 

away from his home. When you first start, he freezes your feet. 
Then you go again and he nearly starves you and Miy Paluk and 
Ahmmahlakto and he brings great storms to kill the dogs. Then 
you go again and you are caught by open water and ice that is 
thrown high into the sky. Who do you think could do such things 
to you but Tahnusuk? Now, if you go again, he will not be so 
kind. This time he will eat you . . . and everyone who goes with 

After this declaration there seemed nothing more to be said, 
so the Eskimos filed out of the room, leaving Peary and Henson 
facing each other. After a moment of silence Peary said, "Matt, 
go talk to them." 

"Yes, sir," Matt said, but his tone was dubious. 

"If you can't get them to change their minds, we'll go north 

"The two of us couldn't make it alone. We just couldn't sledge 
enough supplies." 

Peary said coldly, "The two of us will go. Or, if necessary, 
I'll go alone." 

"It will be the two of us," Henson said. 

Henson went out to talk to the Eskimos and was gone for about 
fifteen minutes. When he came back there was a grin on his face. 
"It's okay," he announced. Peary looked out to see that the Eski- 
mos were indeed packing the sledges. As a good commander, he 
did not question Henson on what means he had used to carry out 
orders. It was sufficient that he had done so. 

On March 24 they all left Fort Conger for the Pole. 

It was not until two days later that Peary brought up the 
question. He said, "Matt, how did you get the Eskimos to come 
with us?" 

Henson grinned. "I told them you were a greater devil than 

"What?" Peary exclaimed. 

"Well, in a way, I did. I told them that in the South was the 
most powerful devil in all the seas, the United States Navy. And 

[ 126 ] AHDOOLO! 

since you were a member of the Navy, you were more than a 
match for Tahnusuk. I said you could defeat him every time." 
With a wry smile Peary said, "Let's hope you're right." 
From Fort Conger they marched to Cape Hecla and there 
swung straight northward over the Polar ice cap. The little cara- 
van had been in the field a month, had traveled over 400 miles 
in temperatures down to sixty degrees below zero, yet the main 
struggle was before them. It was another 400 miles to the Pole 
and, of course, the same distance back. 

All through April the four Eskimos followed Henson and 
Peary, but with increasing apprehension. To conserve food Peary 
sent two Eskimos back to shore, leaving a total of four men and 
three sledges and teams. Finally, the two remaining Eskimos gave 
up, licked by both exhaustion and fear of Tahnusuk. Many of 
the dogs had died; those still on their feet were in poor condi- 
tion. The end of the trail had been reached. 

On April 21, 1902, Peary entered these somber words in his 
journal: "The game is off. My dream of sixteen years is ended. 
It cleared during the night and we got under way this morning. 
Deep snow. Two small old floes. Then came another region of old 
rubble and deep snow. A survey from the top of a pinnacle 
showed this extending north, east and west, as far as could be 
seen. The two old floes, over which we had just come, are the 
only ones in sight. It is impracticable, and I gave the order to 
camp. I have made the best fight I know. I believe it has been a 
good one. I cannot accomplish the impossible." 27 

The return home was full of suffering, but Peary's mental an- 
guish over failure inured him to the pains in his body. There were 
several hairbreadth escapes which he hardly noticed; he seemed 
unconcerned with the fate of a body and a will that had failed 
him. The dogs died, food gave out, the Eskimos panicked; it was 
Henson who kept the caravan together and headed south. After a 
summer full of incredible misery they saw the Windward heave 
into sight on August 5. 

Peary's wife and daughter had come north on the Windward, 
and they lifted his spirits somewhat. As he paced the deck of the 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 127 ] 

ship, walking unsteadily on his butchered feet, he began to find 
some compensation for the four years of struggle and pain. On 
this final try he had reached 84 degrees, 17 minutes north latitude. 
The Pole, at 90 degrees, was still 343 nautical miles distant, but he 
had made a record. He'd gone farther north than any other living 
man. If he hadn't won his entire fight, he had retreated honorably 
and with a degree of victory. 

Then they broke the shattering news to him. While he and 
Henson had been in the North these last four years, the Duke of 
Abruzzi, brother of King Humbert of Italy, had organized an 
expedition that had reached 86 degrees, 34 minutes north latitude. 
He had beaten Peary by over twenty miles. 

This news acted differently on Peary than it would on many 
men. This was the sort of wormwood he needed to shake off the 
self-pity that had enveloped him. He could accept defeat by 
nature, but never at the hands of another man. He saw the Duke 
and his record as deadly and personal enemies who had to be van- 
quished, no matter what the cost. 

As the Windward got under way for New York, Henson 
stopped by Peary's cabin to find him poring over his old charts 
of the coasts of Greenland and Ellesmere Island. **We've got to 
get a boat right into the edge of the Polar Sea, Matt. Our base 
has always been too far south. A boat has got to ram its way 
through Kennedy and Robeson Channels and right into the Polar 

Amazed at both his new cheerfulness and the audacity of his 
thinking, Henson exclaimed, "Why, there's no boat built that 
could do that." 

Peary grinned and said, "Quite right, Matt. We're just going 
to have to build one." 


When Peary and Henson returned home they found Teddy 
Roosevelt in the White House and the country in the mood for 
heroic events. The two explorers were cheered and feted, their 
failure to reach the Pole forgotten in admiration for their gallant 
effort. The President was preaching America's destiny through 
the strenuous life, and what two better examples of his philosophy 
in action than these assaults on the mysterious North? 

Henson and Peary were heroes on widely separate levels of 
society, of course. Peary would not have been so warmly received 
in Henson's world, and Henson not at all in Peary's. From the 
equality of the northern wilderness they had returned to civiliza- 
tion where their skin colors set them apart. They might sleep to- 
gether in an igloo, but could not sit together at the same banquet 
table in a New York hotel. 

Peary's honors came rapidly that fall and winter. He was invited 
to address the Royal Geographical Society; was given a testimo- 
nial dinner by the University Club of New York; received the 
Royal Scottish Geographical Society's coveted Livingston Gold 
Medal; received the gold medal of the Societe de Geographic of 
Paris; was elected President of the American Geographical So- 
ciety; was advanced by the Navy (despite the jealousy of the line 

C 128 ] 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 129 ] 

officers) from Lieutenant to Commander in the Civil Engineers' 

Henson, on the other hand, disappeared into that subterranean 
world of the Negroes. He was not to emerge again until Peary- 
was ready for the next assault on the Pole. For a time he relaxed in 
New York, visiting with friends he had made while at the Museum 
of Natural History, telling stories of the North to small groups in 
Harlem, and paying particular attention to a young lady by the 
name of Lucy Ross. 

He first met Lucy at George Gardner's apartment. The host 
had invited a number of leading Negroes for dinner, not only to 
hear Henson's stories but, in this small way, to honor him. Lucy 
was hardly a leader in Harlem; she was the daughter of a widowed 
neighbor and Gardner had invited them as an act of kindness. But 
when Lucy entered the room, Matt Henson directed all his re- 
marks to her. 

She was young and bright and interested. She had a job as a 
clerk in a large bank, one of the first Negro girls to break through 
the racial barriers in the banking system, and she wasn't intimi- 
dated by this big explorer she was simply fascinated. 

"Are the Eskimo women pretty?" Lucy asked demurely, with 
womanly wisdom. 

Henson, who at thirty-five seemed a confirmed bachelor, did 
not know how to play the game. "Yes, they are pretty," he said. 
Then, seeing the look of disappointment on the girl's face, he 
hastily added, "At least, the Eskimo men think they're pretty." 

Everyone laughed except Mrs. Ross, Lucy's mother. She said, 
"Isn't it true they're very dirty?" 

"Well," said Matt, "I suppose so. They don't have bathtubs 
or running water, so it's difficult for them to keep clean. They 
clean themselves by rubbing the greasy dirt from their bodies with 
a birdskin, then they hang the skin outdoors to dry and freeze, 
then beat off the frozen dirt with a seal bone. If we lived where 
they do, we'd have to bathe in the same way." 

Mrs. Ross wasn't satisfied. She snapped, "They're supposed to be 
very immoral. Isn't that true?" 

[ 130 ] AHDOOLO! 

Dr. Frederick Cook had been lecturing around the country 
ever since his trip north with Henson and Peary, and some of his 
more lurid details of Eskimo life had been fully reported in the 
press. Mrs. Ross was obviously a reader of the Cook stories. 

Immoral? Henson had to reorient himself. They hadn't seemed 
so to him in the North, but, of course, there were different stand- 
ards back here in civilization. 

"They don't get married!" Mrs. Ross cried, triumphantly. 

"No, not in a church," Henson admitted. "They don't have any 
churches. But when a man takes a woman he considers her his 
wife and he cares for her, feeds her, hunts animals to clothe her. 
They never lie to each other; they never desert each other. In 
some ways they are more moral than we are." 

"But . . . ," trumpeted Mrs. Ross. 

Matt held up his hand. "I know what you're going to say. They 
sometimes trade around their wives. And it's true. But nobody 
gets hurt feelings, or thinks they are unwanted; it's the custom. 
And if a woman has a baby by another man, the husband takes 
her back and the baby, too. All the children are loved ... by 
everyone. I know it's wrong by our code, but not by theirs. And 
all I can say is that the Eskimo families are happier than most of 
the families back here." 

There followed a lively discussion about the moralities in- 
volved, and if Mrs. Ross carried the day, it was because she was 
the loudest and, of course, had the backing of all women present. 
Lucy Ross did not take part in the argument, but her eyes re- 
vealed that she thought Matt Henson pretty wonderful even if he 
did say outrageous things. 

It was with some emotional pain that later in the week Matt 
informed Lucy he had to leave New York. He had gotten a job 
as a Pullman porter on a line running west out of Chicago. 

While Henson was making up sleeper beds, Peary took to a hos- 
pital bed in Philadelphia. With typical thoroughness, he was pre- 
paring himself for the next trip north and had instructed Dr. W. W. 
Keen to repair his feet so that he might walk better. His two re- 
maining little toes projected beyond the stumps of the others, 

The Biography of Matthew A, Henson [131] 

making an uneven and tender area. Dr. Keen amputated the outer 
joint of each little toe to bring them in line with the stumps. Then, 
slitting the skin at the front of the feet, the tissue from beneath 
and behind the toes was drawn forward to make a cushion for the 
stumps and ease the pain of marching. 

Once out of the hospital, Peary devoted all his energies to rais- 
ing funds to build a ship that would be capable of smashing its 
way to the Arctic Sea. This was accomplished, and on October 
15, 1904 the keel was laid. The ship was to be built to his own 

This ship was to be a steam vessel with auxiliary sails which 
could be used to save fuel in the Far North. Her proportions were 
of a Scotch whaler, stubby and maneuverable. Her over-all length 
was 184 feet, with a beam of 35% feet, and a draft load of 16 feet. 
The shallow draft was to permit her to get inshore and around 

The wooden sides of the ship were massive in thickness and 
heavily braced. Her outer shell was steel-sheathed. Her counter 
was raked to protect the propeller and rudder, and her bow raked 
to allow her to ride over the ice floes when she rammed them. 
The quarters for crew and expedition members were on deck with 
the great holds below reserved for coal. Also on deck were power- 
ful appliances windlass, steam capstan, and winch which could 
warp the vessel out of dangerous positions near shore and in the 
ice packs. 

The ship was launched on March 23, 1905. Mrs. Peary shattered 
a block of ice, which contained a bottle of champagne, against 
the stern, and the ship was named Roosevelt. 

Peary wrote: "When it came to finding a name tor the ship by 
whose aid I hoped to fight my way toward the most inaccessible 
spot on earth, the name Roosevelt seemed to me to be the one 
inevitable name. It held up as an ideal before the expedition those 
very qualities of strength, insistence, persistence, and unvarying 
victory over all obstacles, which made the twenty-sixth President 
of 'the United States so great." 28 

The Roosevelt sailed north out of New York harbor on July 16, 

[ 132 ] AHDOOLO! 

1905. It was Henson's sixth expedition north. When Henson came 
aboard he found that the crew and the expedition members were 
all greenhorns as far as the frozen sea was concerned. But then, 
all mankind, with the exception of Peary, Henson, and four Eski- 
mos, were greenhorns in that remote area. Still, it seemed to Hen- 
son that for each expedition he had to start all over to teach the 
way of northern life: how to dress and eat and sleep in order to 
survive. He was impressed by the ship, for he was a sailor and 
knew her worth; and he was impressed by the skipper, the big, 
bluff Newfoundlander named Bob Bartlett, who grabbed his hand 
warmly and shouted, "By God, she's a ship, Henson! You ever 
see one finer? The best damn ice ship a mother's son ever keeled. 
Am I right?" 

"You're right," Henson agreed. 

"And I hear you're the best damn dogteam driver in the North," 
Bartlett boomed generously. 

"I heard you're the best damn skipper afloat," Henson said with 
a grin. 

Bartlett roared with laughter and clapped Henson on the back. 
"By God, I see we agree on everything!" And they were friends. 

It was well, for there was to be plenty of grounds for friction 
between these two. Peary was to demote Henson and make Bart- 
lett his right-hand man on this expedition. Peary still clung to his 
Victorian concepts of courage it was the gentleman who must 
have it in greatest abundance. Captain Bob Bartlett was not a 
gentleman, but he was white and that made him closer to a gentle- 
man than the black man. Peary was not acting on prejudice per se; 
he was doing what he thought best for the success of the expedi- 
tion. He would allow no sentiment or loyalties to stand between 
him and the North Pole. 

Not once during the coming year did Henson show the slight- 
est resentment; not once did he give less than his total best. His 
friends back home would have railed at his passivity, but they 
would have misunderstood. He, too, was committed to reaching 
the Pole. It was not within him to shirk or sulk. Still there rose in 
him a foreboding, a premonition of failure. Never before had he 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 133 ] 

experienced this emotion, and he searched for its roots, eager to 
cut them off and be rid of the feeling. 

This was the most lavishly equipped expedition of all. They 
were sailing north in a stout boat especially designed for the job 
ahead, and the experience of all the previous efforts would save 
them from many errors. All the omens were favorable, so what 
was the source of this strange and unwelcome mood? 

He suddenly realized with great shock that it was Peary! The 
commander of the expedition was a tired and sick man! 

Eighteen years in the North had scarred him. He had not fully 
recovered from the operation on his feet. Over the past months 
he had relentlessly stumped the country in a search for funds to 
build the Roosevelt and take her north. He had committed every 
penny of his own: all the royalties from his writings, all the fees 
from his lectures. He had won the battle but at great cost in his 
own substance. 

As the Roosevelt sailed out of New York he stood on her 
bridge, erect, proud, and determined, but his face was lined with 
fatigue and his eyes seemed incapable of the old fires. The men 
standing around him were unaware of the change, for they were 
strangers. Only Henson knew. Only Henson had the premonition 
of failure. 

The expedition was beset by accidents almost from the begin- 
ning. Captain Bob Bartiett kept a log in which he recorded the 
first one: 

"By the time we got to Etah . . . the rotten whale meat we had 
taken on down on the Labrador coast had seeped into the vessel's 
timbers all along the main deck. Then one of our Eskimos knocked 
out his pipe and the first thing we knew the ship was on fire. It 
was bad enough to have her burning up but the smell of the 
smoldering whale blubber was enough to asphyxiate one. After 
a fight we got it out." 29 

From Etah the Roosevelt moved into the Robeson Channel 
where a sudden swirl of the current drove her against two big 
floes, grinding her stern on the ice foot. Within minutes the back 
of the rudder had been twisted on its stock, the heavy head-band 

[ 134 ] AHDOOLO! 

fittings had been broken, and the steel tiller rods snapped. She 
was able to limp into Cape Brevoort on the northern side of New- 
man Bay where a week was spent in repairs. 

With half her boilers leaking and useless the Roosevelt finally 
did batter her way to the northern shore of Grant Land and 
the following March Peary was ready to conquer the Polar ice 
cap. But it was not as he had anticipated; it was not an unbroken, 
homogeneous ice field, not a level, slightly drifting snow plain 
stretched away to infinity in the north. It was a crushing, grind- 
ing, moving field of drift ice, at rest neither in winter nor summer. 
The entire Polar ice cap rotates across the top of the world from 
west to east, the ice forming on the northern shores of Siberia and 
moving across into the North Atlantic and then pouring south- 
ward between Spitsbergen and Greenland. The result of all this 
movement is the building of incalculable pressures that send the 
ice floes shooting up in enormous pressure ridges fifty or sixty 
feet high. All this chaotic ice is separated from the foot ice that 
extends from land by a "big lead," an open river of water, that 
alternately freezes and thaws as the ice north of it moves eastward. 

Peary was unprepared for this mountainous travel. The expe- 
dition began the march north on March 2, 1906. A month and a 
half later it had made it to 87 degrees, 6 minutes north latitude, 
an all-time record. But he was still 174 miles from his goal. He 
could go no farther, 

On April 21 he entered in his journal: "... as I looked at the 
drawn faces of my comrades, the skeleton figures of my few re- 
maining dogs, at my nearly empty sledges, and remembered the 
drifting ice over which we had come, and the unknown quantity 
of the Big Lead between us and the nearest land, I felt that I had 
cut the margin as narrow as could be reasonably expected. I told 
my men we should turn back from here." 30 

On the return trip they failed to take into account that the Polar 
cap on which they stood was rotating to the east, and when 
they finally were able to cross the Big Lead they found their trail 
gone. They were north of Greenland instead of north of Grant 
Land where the ship awaited them. They had the greatest dif- 

The Biography of Matthew A. Benson [ 135 ] 

ficulty in convincing the Eskimos that safety lay to the west, not 
to the south. 

The return to the ship of the beaten, half-dead expedition was 
not the winning of rest and safety. Disaster dogged them as the 
Roosevelt headed south through the Robeson and Kennedy Chan- 
nels. They were wrapped round with constant storms and an 
almost continuous series of breakdowns. The topmast and rigging 
were carried away; heavy seas struck the starboard quarter and 
broke the rudder stock square off, leaving the ship drifting help- 
lessly. A jury rudder was rigged from a spar, only to have that 
carried away. The storm increased to hurricane violence and con- 
tinued for thirty-six hours. When it abated, a second jury rudder 
was rigged after two days' work, with the crew being flung about 
the ship by the quixotic winds. Again under way, they made a 
new rudder from one of the ship's beams, and when the gale had 
blown itself out, the new rudder was hung. 

Now they had run out of fuel and had to forage ashore for it, 
using spruce wood to replace the coal. When the spruce was gone 
they burned blubber. When the blubber was gone they began to 
burn the interior posts of the ship herself. It was now a question 
whether they could reach safe harbor before the ship cannibalized 
herself to the bottom of the sea. The Roosevelt made Batde Har- 
bor, Labrador, on November 2, only to have heavy winds attack 
her and part the lines that moored her to the shore. The ring bolts 
were pulled out of her deck and the stock of the 2,000-pound an- 
chor broken. She almost went ashore to end her brief, battle- 
scarred career, but the crew was able to keep her afloat. 

On Christmas Eve, 1906 she made it back to New York. The 
return voyage had occupied seven months and was to become a 
classic of the sea. Men who later visited her in dry dock, and saw 
the almost mortal damage to her sternposts and rudder, found it 
difficult to believe that a ship in that condition could have made 
such a voyage. 

It was dramatically proper that the final trip north should have 
been the most difficult of all, fitting that Peary and Henson should 
end their careers with the greatest display of courage and ford- 

[ 136 ] AHDOOLO! 

tude. So the public said. If Peary could not reach the North Pole, 
no man could. Give an old man all honor for attempting the im- 
possible. So the editorials read. 

Then Peary said to the reporters, "We are back for repairs 
and supplies." 

The reporters were incredulous. "You mean you're going back? " 
they demanded. 

"As soon as we're outfitted," Peary snapped. "Next summer, at 
the latest. And this time I'll nail the Stars and Stripes to the North 

When this news was headlined across the nation, the public was 
awed. They admired Peary, of course, but they thought he must 
be slightly mad. 

Alone with Henson, Peary dropped his heroic posture and said, 
"Matt, this trip will be our last. Win or lose, we can never go 
north again." 

They were prophetic words. 


Henson and Peary faced the last great adventure quite differently. 
They were, of course, quite different men, and all the years of in- 
timacy and dependence upon each other had not bridged the class 
and racial chasm between them. But also, they had altered much 
since they first met twenty years before. 

Peary had started out with a purpose, ribbed and edged with 
steel. Now it had become a passion. There was every reason not 
to attempt the Pole again. His own scarred and crippled fifty-two- 
year-old body was reason; the record of failure, not alone his but 
of every man who had attempted the Pole, was reason; his lonely, 
long-deserted, and very anxious family was reason but he was 
beyond reason. He wished for either victory or death. There was 
no doubt that within the year he would win one or the other. 

Henson, on the other hand, had started out with nothing but a 
passion for adventure, but this had been fired into firm purpose. 
He wanted to prove that a Negro could match a white man in 
facing and surmounting vicissitudes. He did not wish to die in the 
process, for that would not be the proof. His wish to live was 
shown by his last act before going north: he married young Lucy 

Personnel for the expedition had to be recruited all over again. 

C 137 ] 

[ 138 ] AHDOOLO! 

Only two men had ever gone a second time on a Polar expedition 
with Peary and Henson; none a third. Each expedition had to be 
staffed with amateurs. This time Peary reverted to type: he sur- 
rounded himself with college men. Despite experience, he could 
not rid himself of the conviction that gentlemen were the bravest. 

Besides the twenty-two crew members of the Roosevelt, the 
expedition was to consist of George Borup, just graduated from 
Yale University; Ross G. Marvin, instructor at Cornell University; 
Dr. J. W. Goodsell, with a degree from Pulte Medical College; 
Donald B. MacMillan, graduate of Peary's own alma mater, Bow- 
doin, and a teacher at Worcester (Massachusetts) Academy; and 
those two non-gentlemen, Captain Bob Bardett and Matthew 
Henson. As it turned out, the college men did not this time disil- 
lusion Peary; they had courage and will power to the full measure. 
If Peary failed it would be for no reason of dereliction by these 

Knowing this was his last effort, Peary made his preparations 
with cold and desperate efficiency. He spent months over the 
logistics of the expedition, knew what was necessary to be done 
almost to each day of each month. Henson and Charlie Percy, 
the cook, lived aboard the Roosevelt at dock to direct the stowage 
of supplies. 

The lazaretto (between decks) was arsenal of the ship, hold- 
ing ammunition and guns, powder to make ammunition, dynamite 
for blasting ice. Here also was stowed tobacco, alcohol, picks and 
shovels, carpenter's and tinsmith's tools for Henson. Into the after 
hold went jam, beans, canned fruit, candy, 16,000 pounds of flour, 
10,000 pounds of sugar, 10,000 pounds of biscuits, 7,000 pounds of 
bacon, 3,500 gallons of kerosene, 3,000 pounds of dried fish, 1,000 
pounds of coffee, 800 pounds of tea, 100 cases of condensed milk, 
and, most important of all, 30,000 pounds of pemmican to be used 
on the trail. The pemmican came in blue tins for humans and red 
tins for the dogs. The dogs were to learn the significance of the 
colors, and whenever they broke loose aboard ship or on the trail, 
they made for the red tins and ripped them open with their teeth. 

Also taken aboard were magazines, five cases of books, elaborate 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 139 ] 

photography supplies including complete darkroom equipment, 
field glasses and sunglasses, maps and charts, theodolites, sextants, 
thermometers, tidal gauges, compasses. There were warm clothes, 
but not those that would be worn on the trail. The expedition 
would be dressed exactly as the Eskimos dressed, and their clothes 
would be made in the North during the long winter night by the 
Eskimo women. 

And there was coal in every available inch of hold and deck 
space that was left The Roosevelt's great failing was excessive 
consumption of coal. She had engines of 1,000 horsepower, of the 
inverted compound type, two water tubes, and one Scotch boiler, 
all to drive a single eleven-foot propeller. She was strong, she 
could steam and she could sail, but she could not leave any port 
in the United States and steam to the shore of the Polar ice cap 
and reach home again with the coal in her bunkers. Thus the 
auxiliary ship Erik had been chartered to follow her and refuel 
her in the North. 

As the Roosevelt began to take on supplies in New York the 
public interest rose. It was an interest compounded of hero wor- 
ship, compassion, and some ghoulishness. Henson felt it in some 
of his friends. When they would sit together over coffee in the 
Harlem apartments, they hung on every detail of the ship and 
equipment, urged him to assure them that the expedition would 
succeed. But when he did, they mentally shook their heads and re- 
turned to eager questioning, wanting to store up details for future 
memories of a doomed expedition. 

As a result of the widely held belief that this was a quixotic ad- 
venture that could not possibly succeed, crackpot suggestions 
flooded the Roosevelt. They amused Henson, who used to quote 
them to the rest of the crew. 

One day when Peary came aboard for his usual inspection, Hen- 
son met him at the gangplank, waved a letter, and exclaimed, 
"We've wasted a lot of time and money, Commander. We don't 
need to take all these food supplies north. There's a better way.'* 

"What this time, Matt? " Peary said with a grin. 

"A soup pipeline! This guy sent us blueprints and specifications 

[ 140 ] AHDOOLO! 

and everything. All we have to do is to install an enormous soup 
boiler on the Roosevelt. Then, as we advance over the ice cap, we 
lay pipe every inch of the way, and the boiler forces hot soup 
through the pipe to us, right to the North Pole." 

Peary appeared to study the idea for a moment, then announced, 
"Only one drawback, Matt." 

"What can that be?" Henson was amazed. 

"I don't like soup." 

Henson shrugged and dropped the letter over the side. 

In another mail there arrived a detailed plan to equip a boat 
with a bow that got red-hot so it could melt a path to the Pole. 
One elaborate drawing revealed a specially designed mobile head- 
quarters to be used on the ice. It was a knock-down house, ten by 
twelve f eet, containing a set of tanks filled with hydrogen gas. In 
the center was a small engine that caused a heavy chain loop to 
revolve out through a front window, along the surface of the ice 
like the tread of a tractor, and back in through a rear window. 
When it came time to advance, the gas was fed into a balloon 
on the roof of the structure, the balloon raised the house two 
feet off the ice, the engine was started, and the chain tractor began 
to move, pulling the slightly levitated structure forward. The ex- 
pedition could travel to the Pole without ever stepping outdoors! 

While the supplies were being taken aboard, the new members 
of the expedition came, one at a time, to see their quarters and in- 
stall their personal belongings. Young Donald MacMillan, who, 
years later, was to become a renowned Arctic explorer on his 
own, wrote about his first visit to the Roosevelt: 

I first met Matt Henson aboard the Commander's steamer Roose- 
velt, being loaded with equipment at a New York dock. I climbed 
over the rail and was surveying the ship's facilities for the first time, 
when a stateroom door opened and out he stepped with hand ex- 
tended in greeting and a ready smile. I recognized him from news- 
paper photographs. 

"Glad to meet you, professor," he said, and he gave me the tide 
thereafter, although I was no more than a preparatory school in- 
structor. About five feet eight inches, black-haired and clean-shaven, 

The Biography of Matthew A. Benson [ 141 ] 

he was a handsome fellow and although an athlete myself, I watched 
with admiration the ease with which he moved and worked about 
the ship; he was obviously in splendid condition. 

We sat on the caplog and he talked about the Arctic, of which I 
could not hear enough for what he already knew so well I was just 
beginning to learn. Since he was modest, it took me much longer to 
learn what his true role had been. ... I did not then know that he 
was to teach me how to survive in the North. 31 

As the sailing date approached, greater and greater crowds 
came to the Roosevelt's dock to watch final preparations. There 
was much dockside discussion about the North Pole, none of 
it quite clear about the nature of the thing. Many thought it was 
a pole that stuck up in the air, probably striped, and that it would 
be removed by these brave men and returned to America for 

On July 6 the Roosevelt left her pier, and to the accompani- 
ment of shouts and waved handkerchiefs and harbor whistles and 
horns, made her way up the East River. There was an important 
first stop at Oyster Bay, Long Island, for the President of the 
United States desired to come aboard his namesake. Teddy Roose- 
velt insisted on examining every inch of the ship, exclaiming 
"Bully!" over and over. He met and shook hands with every 
member of the expedition and crew, and expressed his envy of 
them on their great adventure. 

Peary and Roosevelt stood together on deck as photographers 
took their pictures. Roosevelt said, "How I would like to go 

Peary replied, "Mr. President, I shall put into this effort every- 
thing there is in me physical, mental, and moral." 

Roosevelt grasped his hand and exclaimed, "I believe in you, 
Peary, and I believe in your success if it is within the possibility 
of man." 

That final qualification of the President's was shared by the 

During the voyage north, uneventful until the arrival at the 
whaling station at St. Charles, Labrador, the relationship of the 

[ 142 ] AHDOOLO! 

men began to take form. If newcomers had expected intimacy 
and easy camaraderie with their commander, they were soon 
disabused. Peary retired into his cabin to remain there, remote 
and thoughtful. From time to time the members of the expedi- 
tion would be called into his quarters for lectures and instruc- 
tions, but Peary never came to their quarters for relaxation or 
companionship. His was the lonely desperation of a last battle. 

Captain Bob Bartlett, skipper of the Roosevelt again for this 
expedition, was the most conspicuous man on the ship. He had 
a lean, weathered face with hawk-like nose above a drooping mus- 
tache. He came from a long line of Newfoundland sea captains 
and ruled his ship with loud, profane justice. He was intimidated 
by no mannot even Peary. He gave his loyalty to Peary because 
it was deserved, not commanded. 

On one of his subsequent trips north he had Mrs. Peary and 
young teen-age Marie Peary as passengers. One evening bread 
pudding was the dessert, and when Marie put her spoon into it 
she came upon a cud of chewing tobacco. With Bartlett watch- 
ing her sharply, Marie put the spoon down and pushed the 
pudding aside. 

Bartlett pounded the table with his fist and shouted, "People 
who is fastidious should not go on Polar expeditions. Nobody 
expects ya to eat the chaw of tobacco, but, by God, there's 
nothin' wrong with the puddin'." 

With Peary withdrawn and Bardett busy with the running of 
the ship, the remaining members of the expedition were thrown 
together to speculate, anticipate. There was earnest and pains- 
taking Ross G. Marvin, a veteran of the previous trip north on 
the Roosevelt and listed as Peary's personal secretary. He was to 
be murdered in the North. There was fleshy, ponderous Dr. J. W. 
Goodsell, who was not designed by nature to be very good on 
the Arctic trail but compensated by sheer determination. There 
was George Borup, the Yale athlete and perhaps the perfect 
shipmate because of his ebullient good humor. There was Don- 
ald B. MacMillan, who was quick and strong and cheerful and 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 143 ] 

eager to learn. Of all the men, MacMillan gave the greatest prom- 
ise of mastering the skills of the trail. 

Henson marked him at once and confided to his journal, which 
he now began to keep, "I am going to cultivate his acquaint- 
ance." 32 

Then there was, of course, Henson himself. But he was so 
self-effacing that the rest of the expedition was hardly aware of 
him during those early days of the voyage. When they hit their 
first storm, however, they suddenly realized he was aboard. 

MacMillan later wrote: 

I remember very well an 80-mile-an-hour gale in Buchanan Bay 
aboard the Roosevelt. Sheets of solid, ice-cold spray poured over the 
bow, sluiced everything over the rail that wasn't tied down, and 
made it hazardous to stay anywhere on deck. The steamer was 
lunging and laboring into green-gray head seas and the heavy motion 
of her pitch threatened to smash the whaleboats, which were jump- 
ing in the davits. 

For the next hour, Matt was all over that ship, virtually unmindful 
of his own safety, acting with a sailor's instinct and without orders, 
which could not have been heard in the wind anyway, he worked 
taking in sail and securing the boats with the vigor of three men. 33 

And so these men became acquainted, each measuring and 
weighing with the knowledge that his own life was largely in his 
comrades' hands. 

Among the things these eager young men learned during the 
early days of the voyage was that their new world was to smell 
differently from their accustomed one. The Roosevelt put in at 
a whaling station just below Battle Harbor, Labrador, to take on 
30,000 pounds of old whale meat. This would be food for the 
Eskimo dogs they would pick up in Greenland, and since the 
dogs weren't particular about the age of the meat, the food was 
cheap and ancient. The Roosevelt now began to reek so intensely 
that her presence would be announced to ships miles away across 
open water. 

Later the Roosevelt put into Hawks Harbor and tied up near 
the immaculate yacht Wakiva out of New York. All the ladies 

[ 144 ] AHDOOLO! 

and gentlemen aboard her were thrilled to see the famous expedi- 
tion and sent word they would like to come aboard and meet 
the famous Commander Peary. Permission was given. 

The whale meat was stowed on deck, and to save the visitors 
the necessity of wading through it, a boardwalk was laid upon 
the jellylike mass from the companion ladder to Peary's cabin 
door. When the visitors arrived, dressed in yachting whites, they 
paused at the top of the companionway, their faces aghast. They 
considered letting Peary sail on north without their good wishes, 
but finally overcame this unworthy impulse and stepped out onto 
the planking. It jiggled and swayed and threatened to throw them 
into the decaying, blubberous mass, but never quite did. 

They shook Peary's hand briefly and left the ship with all 
haste. Back in New York they were heard to brag of their 

On August 1 the Roosevelt put in at Cape York, Greenland. It 
was here that the expedition would select and take aboard the 
Eskimos and their dogs. Though there was a blizzard at the time 
of arrival, the Eskimo men came out in their kayaks to shout: 

"Pearyaksoah! Miy Paluk! Pearyaksoah! Miy Paluk!" 

Peary and Henson leaned over the rail to wave in response to 
the warm greetings. When they finally dropped anchor and 
went ashore in a whaleboat, the entire village danced happily 
around them. The greenhorns on the trip were amazed at the 
affection shown both Peary and Henson, realizing it spoke well 
for a relationship of honest dealing that had extended between 
the explorers and this tribe of Smith Sound aborigines for over 
twenty years. 

It was soon obvious that Peary was respected and obeyed by 
these small brown people, but Henson was loved. Old friends 
vied with each other to have him sleep in their igloos, to feed 
him, to make new clothing for him. There was Kudlooktoo, his 
son, now grown to manhood, who walked possessively beside 
him; there were Sipsoo and Seegloo and Ootah, but, sadly, no 
Ahnalka. He had died. 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 145 ] 

Peary delegated to Henson the job of selecting the personnel 
and the dogs to make the trip to the Arctic. With an instinct 
born of long experience, Matt selected and bought (with guns 
and ammunition and cooking utensils) the best dogs of the tribe, 
but when it came to choosing the men and women, his job was 
most difficult. Not that he didn't know who was best; he hated 
to hurt the feelings of those who were second-rate. 

In the midst of the process the Erik arrived, bringing a New 
Haven sportsman named Harry Whitney, who proposed to spend 
the winter on Greenland, hunting game. Henson and a few 
Eskimos took Whitney on a walrus hunt and he proved an apt 

The Roosevelt moved north to Etah, there to take on more 
Eskimos and dogs. On August 18 the ship sailed out of Etah and 
headed north into the ice pack of the Kane Basin. The last 
vestige of civilization, of human habitation, was now left behind. 

Peary wrote: "Behind me now lay everything that was mine, 
everything that a man personally loves, family, friends, home and 
all those hundreds of associations which linked me with my kind. 
Ahead of me lay my dream, my destiny, the goal of that ir- 
resistible impulsion which had driven me for 23 years to hurl 
myself, time after time, against the frigid NO of the Great 
North." 34 

Captain Bob Bartlett also wrote of this day, but his words 
lacked the mysticism of Peary's. He observed: 

. . . Mixed up with the coal were 70 tons of whale meat and 246 
dogs, all fighting and screaming the dogs, I mean. In addition we 
had 49 Eskimos and the blubber of 50 walruses. To get some idea of 
what this meant you must remember that the Roosevelt was not any 
bigger than the average tug. She was already weighted down with 
a heavy cargo of supplies and equipment for at least a year in the 
Far North. To my dying day I shall never forget the frightful noise, 
the choking stench and the terrible confusion that reigned aboard her 
as we steamed slowly down Foulke Fjord and swung around into 
the pack of Kane Basin. We had some canned peaches for supper 
that night; but the odor about us was so powerful that the peaches 

[ 146 ] AHDOOLO! 

simply felt wet and cold on one's tongue, having no fruit flavor 
whatsoever. 85 

There was soon more to be concerned about than the flavor 
of the peaches. The Roosevelt entered into a life-and-death 
struggle with the ice pack. She had penetrated through these 
waters on her previous trip, and that time she had almost been 
destroyed in the process. There was no assurance that she could 
repeat her performance. In fact, as the violence of the struggle 
increased, the whaleboats were provisioned and every man as- 
signed a vital box of supplies and a spot on the railing where he 
should go over the side if the worst should happen. This stout 
boat suddenly seemed frail as she was put to the cruel ordeal. 

With Captain Bartlett in the crow's nest screaming orders down 
to the helmsman, and Peary clinging to the rigging halfway up 
to observe, the ship was used as a battering ram against the ice, 
splitting the great cakes or forcing them aside. There were mo- 
ments when she was caught in the relentless crush of the ice 
field, and then as the pressure against her sides mounted, her 
decks bulged upwards and the rigging slackened, and from the 
holds came loud reports, a fusillade, as the timbers cracked, and 
the whole ship quivered like a tight bowstring. But each time 
she was able to squeeze upward and leap from the death jaws, 
leaving in her wake a snarling turmoil of cheated ice. 

Peary wrote: 

The Roosevelt fought like a gladiator, turning, twisting, straining 
with all her force, smashing her full weight against the heavy floes 
whenever we could get room for a rush, and rearing upon them like 
a steeplechaser taking a fence. . . . The forward rush, the gathering 
speed and momentum, the crash, the upward heave, the grating snarl 
of the ice as the steel-shod stem split it as a mason's hammer splits 
granite, or trod it under, or sent it right and left in whirling frag- 
ments, followed by the violent roll, the backward rebound, and then 
the gathering for another rush ... At such times everyone on deck 
hung with breathless interest in our movement, and as Bartlett and 
I clung to the rigging I heard him whisper through teeth clenched 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 147 ] 

from the purely physical tension of the throbbing ship under us: 
"Give it to 'em, Teddy, give it to 'em." 36 

Throughout it all was the frightening knowledge that each 
mile achieved northward removed them just that much farther 
from home, was a mile that would have to be fought all over 
again on the return trip if there was a return trip. 

Tortuously northward they went through the Kennedy and 
Robeson Channels. On September 5, after almost a month of 
struggle, they came to the edge of the Polar Sea and found a 
small lead of open water between foot ice and sea ice. The "ice 
foot" is formed by the rise and fall of the tides working against 
the shoreline. Each time the tide falls it leaves a thin deposit of 
water on the shore which then freezes and extends into the sea. 
If a ship is not of heavy draft she can steam along the shore be- 
tween the ice foot and the heavy sea ice. This was what the 
Roosevelt now did, making her way to Cape Sheridan, the site 
of Peary's 1906 winter quarters. 

During the previous expedition the Roosevelt had been berthed 
in a precarious position and subjected to attack by tides and ice, 
so now every effort was made to get her into shallow water and 
close to shore, safe from the hostile pack outside. 

This having been accomplished, even further precautions 
were taken; vital equipment was removed from the boat and 
placed on land. Peary wrote: "With the supplies ashore, the loss 
of the ship by fire or by crushing in the ice would mean simply 
that the men would have to walk home. It would not interfere 
with the sledge work, nor seriously cripple the expedition." 37 

[ XVII ] 

The long night now descended upon them. This "was a period 
dreaded by explorers, a period when men's nerves gave way. It 
had been the policy of all other northern expeditions to hole in 
during the long night, to try and fight off the oppression of dark- 
ness by all sorts of games and amateur theatricals. Never was any 
serious exploration made until the terror was gone and the sun 
returned in the spring. 

Not so with the Peary expeditions. The Arctic night was a 
period of intense activity during which all equipment was made, 
repaired, and used in practice operations. No theatricals were 
ever performed in a Peary camp; there wasn't time. 

Cape Sheridan was at 82 degrees, 28 minutes north latitude, and 
on December 22, the middle of the long night, the sun would be 
15 degrees, 48 minutes below the horizon. This means that there 
remained a glimmer of twilight on the southern horizon, except, 
of course, on stormy days. Still, the disappearance of the sun 
affected all men, white and Eskimo alike. 

Even Peary was touched by the night moods. He wrote: 
"Mingled with the work and plans and anxieties were times for 
thoughts and impressions ... as much a part of the Arctic night 
as the ice, the darkness and the cold. Moments of exultation and 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 149 ] 

moments of depression. Moments of eager impatience when I 
wished that the day for the departure north might be tomorrow. 
Moments of foreboding when I dreaded the arrival. Moments of 
sanguine hopes, others of darkest misgivings . ." 3S 

It was during the Arctic night that mutinies festered and broke 
open in other expeditions. Explorer Charles Francis Hall shot two 
of his men; one man was shot by Greely; Dr. Elisha Kent Kane 
shot one of his men but missed. Mutiny became such a common 
occurrence that the British Admiralty ruled that all Arctic ex- 
peditions should be under military discipline. 

There were no mutinies at Cape Sheridan. Not only was there 
too much work to allow it, but there was the presence of Matthew 
Henson. During the winter Matt became the mainspring of the 
camp. He was everywhere, teaching, encouraging, working tire- 
lessly and with inexhaustible good humor. 

The first thing Henson undertook was the construction of the 
sledges. Of all the equipment, the sledge was probably the most 
important and the most temperamental. It had to combine light- 
ness with strength and easy traction. Every detail of it was of the 
utmost importance and the slightest change could alter its ef- 
fectiveness, just as the change of a ship's lines could slow her 
speed. Peary had designed a sledge that differed from the tradi- 
tional Eskimo ones, but it was Henson who built them. 

It was put together, not with nails and screws, but with seal- 
skin rawhide lashings. These gave it flexibility. The runners were 
longer than those on the Eskimo sledge, and curved up at both 
ends to allow easier passage over rough ice. The greenhorns on 
the expedition watched Henson at work and were amazed at his 
skill as he constructed two dozen sledges. MacMillan wrote: 

The Eskimos would gather about when Matt put a sledge together, 
watching his skill, but waiting particularly for one part of the opera- 
tion. In lashing together a sledge, a white man braces his foot on the 
sledge, leans back and pulls the rawhide taut with both hands. When 
Henson did it, he would bend down, seize the bight of the rawhide 
in his powerful white teeth, pull back his head until the cords on his 
strong neck stood out, then deftly make fast the lashing. The Eskimos 

[ 150 ] AHDOOLO! 

would shake their heads and grunt approval. That was their way of 
doing it and this fellow of the South ... did a good job, too. Even 
the oldtimers would run their hands over the lashings, look in, under, 
and about to make certain everything was just so, and say, "Ajungilak" 
(it is good). 89 

Next to sledges, the most important item of equipment was 
clothing. Peary and Henson had learned that there was no choice 
between woolens and nature's gift to the animals, fur. They had 
learned to dress as the Eskimos dressed, and there was just no 
improvement civilization could make. Under Henson's foreman- 
ship the Eskimo women made the clothing for the white men, as 
well as for their own husbands. They chewed each piece of hide 
to make it flexible before stitching it into garments, and by middle 
age they generally had worn their teeth down to the gums. Still, 
this was the badge of a good and industrious wife and was dis- 
played with pride. 

Socks were made of Arctic hare, fur next to the feet. Kamiks, 
or boots, were of sealskin or fur from the legs of reindeer, bear, 
or musk ox. Henson instructed all the greenhorns to put a nest 
of grass in the bottom of the kamik on which the sock rested, for 
this helped to absorb the moisture and keep the feet warm. By 
changing the grass every two or three days a man could use a 
pair of karniks much longer before drying them over a stove. 

From just below the knees up to the waist were pants made of 
bearskin, since this is the only fur that is almost as warm wet as 
dry. The quality of the bearskin in a man's pants was a status 
symbol among the Eskimos. The polar bear is the fiercest, strong- 
est, best-adapted animal in the North. He doesn't hibernate; he's 
up and out in all kinds of weather, asking no quarter, plodding 
through the darkness and the storm, surviving in all tempera- 
tures. The only thing that keeps him from the North Pole is the 
absence of food. It took a brave and skillful hunter to bring down 
a polar bear, and thus his hide was prized as a garment. 

Above the waist was a kooletah, a shirt made of deerskin with 
the sleeves large so the arms could be withdrawn and warmed 
on the belly. Above it was a hood made of bearskin or a deer- 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 151 ] 

skin roll. In case of wind this could be drawn over the head and 
around the face. The back of it was very loose, to allow a con- 
tinual stream of cold air to circulate up and down the body and 
remove any moisture from perspiration. 

These garments could be transformed into a sleeping bag by 
the simple procedure of drawing the kooletah tight at the waist 
and passing a string between the legs to hold it in position, at the 
same time tightening the strings at the top of the kamiks and 
pulling the hands from the sleeves to place them inside on the 

"Never stand with your hands on your hips," Henson warned 
his pupils. "You never see an Eskimo stand that way, and for a 
good reason. Such a position lets a lot of air pass between the 
body and the arms, and you get chilled. Let your arms drop at 
your sides and you'll be warmer. 

"When you're on the trail and living in igloos,'* Matt con- 
tinued, "you'll rise in the morning to find your kamiks are moist 
and soft from the condensation around your feet. When you first 
step outside, stand quietly for a time, make very little movement. 
This will let the kamiks freeze to the shape of your feet for the 
day's march. If you walk before they are frozen, they will freeze 
in awkward positions and you'll develop blisters." 

The men nodded soberly. They were learning, not just the 
art of travel and comfort, but the grim business of survival. Matt 
continued, "Every day inspect all your garments for tiny holes 
or tears. A rip will mean a spot of frozen flesh even before you 
feel the cold. 

"And if you freeze a part of your body, 'warm it. Somehow the 
story got around that when an Eskimo freezes his foot he rubs 
it with snow. Well, snow at fifty degrees below zero would just 
freeze his foot that much harder. What he really does is put it 
against his wife's warm belly." 

Of equal importance with clothing was shelter on the trail. 
Peary and Henson had started out their careers using tents, but had 
given them up in favor of the Eskimo shelter, a snow igloo. The 
igloo is a perfect protection against snow and wind, it conserves 

[ 152 ] AHDOOLO! 

the fuel that must be carried on the sledges, and it eliminates 
the weight of the tent which must also be carried. To unbend 
a frozen tent, hitting it and kicking it into shape with chilled 
fists and feet, setting it up against a wind that may be so strong 
that a man hardly can stand against it, is difficult work at best. 
Add to that the fact that by the end of a trip a tent has doubled 
and trebled its weight with ice as a result of condensation of the 
steam from cooking pots and moisture from human breath, and 
the disadvantages of a tent become obvious. The Eskimo way 
was the best. 

Henson and two Eskimos now began to teach the members of 
the expedition how to construct igloos. The one indispensable 
tool was a snow knife. It was about the size of a machete but 
the leading edge was serrated so that the frozen snow could be 
sawed. The snow blocks were, roughly, 24" x 18" x 6", and were 
laid in a circle, spirally, counterclockwise. Each block was held 
by the left hand and cut and fitted into position by the right. 
Since each spiraling row is cut slightly smaller than the last, the 
igloo comes to a rounded dome top, leaving a final hole to be 
filled in by a block cut to fit. Entrance was by a tunnel dug from 
the outside and under the wall of the igloo to the inside, thus 
trapping warm air within. 

"The igloo is never allowed to get really warm," Henson ex- 
plained, "because if it did it would begin to melt and drip water 
all over our clothes. We control the temperature by opening and 
closing the hole in the roof. The temperature, aside from when 
we cook, depends upon the body heat of the people in the igloo; 
four people can raise the temperature fifteen degrees." 

"Matt," Borup interrupted, "you mean that if it is fifty degrees 
below zero outside, our bodies will warm the igloo to only thirty- 
five degrees below zero?" 

"Exactly," Matt said. Then with a grin, "That's plenty warm 
for a good sleep on the trail." 

He was kidding because, as he explained, they usually tried 
to get the temperature a little warmer than that. 

"These igloos will be made at the end of each march toward 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 153 ] 

the Pole," Matt explained, "and then reoccupied on the return 
inarches. If, however, we decide to live in a snow igloo for any 
length of time, we use the stove to heat the temperature above 
freezing. Then when the walls begin to run with water we kick 
out the top block and let the cold air rush in. This gives the 
inside walls a hard glaze and strengthens the igloo against storms." 

The stove Matt referred to was of Peary's design and Matt's 
construction. The so-called Primus stove had been used by other 
explorers, but it was bulky and inefficient in contrast with the 
ones Matt had made for this expedition. With about eight ounces 
of fuel and an improved ice basket, it could create a gallon of 
boiling water in about twenty minutes. With less ice to be con- 
verted to water, supper could be prepared in half the time. The 
importance of the stove could not be underestimated. It might 
well mean the difference between success and failure on the trail, 
perhaps even between life and death. 

As for the food, it was to be the simplest and the lightest. Basic 
was pemmican. This was an Indian word in Cree dialect, meaning 
"fatty food." Peary's pemmican was especially compounded and 
packaged, and was 62 percent ground beef and 38 percent suet 
with a dash of seasoning and raisins. It contained highly concen- 
trated nutrition and, compared to other foods available in the 
North, was pleasant to the palate. 

The basic liquid was tea. This was found to be better than 
coffee or chocolate for cold work because it warms a man faster, 
gives him a lift without any aftereffect. It is light to transport, 
easy to prepare. Science had determined that a man could live 
and work on Peary's basic daily ration: 16 ounces of pemmican 
(8 in the morning and 8 in the evening), 16 ounces of biscuits, 
4 ounces of condensed milk, 1 1 / 2 ounces of compressed tea. Here 
were the necessary proteins, fats, and carbohydrates enough 
to get a man to the North Pole and back, all other conditions 
being fortunate. 

The dog ration was also pemmican of a slightly different 
formula, each dog receiving one pound per day. With eight dogs 
to a sledge, the sledge carried supplies of one 8-pound can of dog 

[ 154 ] AHDOOLO! 

pemmican per day. Each block of the frozen food was scored into 
eight parts to make it easy to parcel out the meals. 

For all the careful advance preparation, for all Peary's and 
Henson's cumulative wisdom gained over twenty years in the 
North, one vital aspect of the expedition now had to start from 
scratch the greenhorns had to be turned into dogteam drivers. 
It was the most difficult of all the northern skills, and the most 

In these expeditions the dogs were driven; there was no lead 
dog to select a path and spring down it. The eight dogs were 
fastened to the sledge in fan shape and it was up to the driver to 
select and force the direction and speed. Also, the weight of the 
loaded sledges was not calculated to the strength of the eight 
dogs, but to the strength of the dogs plus that of the driver. If 
a sledge is deep in snow, or locked against a pressure ridge, the 
dogs cannot start it moving alone; it is up to the driver to lift 
and push and obtain momentum before the dogs take over. 

Here again it was Henson who taught the others. His students, 
strong and intelligent and well-coordinated men, had the usual 
difficulties. Both George Borup and Donald MacMillan were eager 
to learn and certain they would quickly master the art. Henson 
started out with Borup on a practice run and everything was 
going fine, but the moment Henson stepped aside, the dogs 
slowed down and finally just stopped and sat in the snow. "The 
twenty-five foot whip was tried [by me]," Borup wrote, "but 
the dogs never moved. They certainly were amused at the ex- 
hibition I put up. First thing I did was to sting myself a crack 
in the face, then I knocked my hat off. On the third try I man- 
aged to miss myself but hit an Eskimo who was passing. Next 
time the lash snarled around a dog trace." 40 

Finally, in desperation, Borup grabbed up a snowshoe and be- 
gan to hit the dogs on their rumps. They moved a few feet, then 
sat down again to stare at him resentfully. 

The twenty-five-foot whip was the key to success, Matt ex- 
plained to Borup. He demonstrated how to handle it, time after 
time hitting a predetermined spot the size of a quarter. Affec- 

The Biography of Matthew A. Benson [ 155 ] 

tionately rubbing the head of the king dog, he said, "You don't 
have to hit them with the whip, but you have to let them know 
you can hit them if necessary. A crack of the whip just a few 
inches above their heads is sufficient. But if they find you can't 
do it, you might as well give up. They'll never obey you." 

MacMillan wrote of Henson: ". . . without profanity or bru- 
tality, with little more than a movement of the arm or wrist, 
with all the proficiency of a skillful fly fisherman, he piloted his 
cumbersome command over the craggy sea ice while lesser men 
covered fewer miles and had more accidents.'* 41 

So through the night Henson taught the necessary skills. The 
lessons were received in dead seriousness, for the men's lives de- 
pended upon the learning. November, December, January passed. 
MacMillan and Marvin took tidal observations; Henson led the 
hunting parties; Bardett cared for the ship and commanded the 
crew. Borup was a gadfly who eagerly participated in everything; 
Goodsell treated frostbite and stomach upsets and piblokto and 
all the other ailments of the flesh; Peary spent hours in his cabin, 
brooding over charts as he checked and rechecked and checked 
again his tactics for the Polar Sea. All he had learned and suffered 
in a lifetime was brought to bear on this final problem of how to 
leave land and travel over 400 miles of Polar Sea with no life 
upon it, reach the Pole and travel the 400 miles in return. Peary 
had once seen the footprint of a polar bear, but never actually 
seen a living thing and he had to proceed on the assumption there 
was none. 

He could not lay down caches of food. On Greenland they had 
been snowed under; on the Polar Sea they had drifted with the 
ice pack in both cases, lost. There was no game to be shot be- 
tween his winter headquarters and the Pole; therefore, all food had 
to be carried on a sledge. Yet, even with the most ruthless elimi- 
nation of nonessential items, a man and team couldn't carry 
enough food to feed themselves for the 800-mile march. And to 
add another sledge was to add more men and dogs and, therefore, 
more mouths to be fed. It seemed a vicious circle. But Peary be- 
lieved he had it broken. 

[ 156 ] AHDOOLO! 

On his last two expeditions he had devised and was now per- 
fecting a system of supporting parties. In January he called the 
members of his expedition together to go over the details of this 
plan. It was a model of simplicity, yet required the highest degree 
of coordination. 

Each man (seven of them including Peary) was to be in com- 
mand of a sub-party of two Eskimos, three sledges, and twenty- 
four dogs. Each sub-party would be completely self-sufficient in 
food, weapons, tools, and clothes, but would also carry extra 
food sufficient to feed the combined parties for five days. All 
seven parties would start out on the ice cap simultaneously, and 
for the first five marches all would eat the supplies of a single 
sub-party. At the end of that time, the sub-party, with emer- 
gency rations and a light sledge, would make double marches for 
shore. Thereafter, each sub-party would feed the expedition for 
five days, before returning to shore. By the time the sixth party 
turned back a month later, Peary should be within striking dis- 
tance of the Pole with his own party's rations untouched. 

The men and dogs to turn back each time would be determined 
on the spot, the weaker returning and the stronger going forward. 
By this process Peary would always have available the pick of 
men and dogs. Who would finally accompany him to the Pole, 
no one knew, not even Peary, though he seemed to have a prefer- 
ence for MacMillan the Bowdoin man. 

After explaining the plan to the members of the expedition, 
Peary faced the more difficult task of explaining it to the Eskimos. 
They had a great fear of the Polar ice cap where the evil spirit 
Tahnusuk lived. All through the winter night Henson had been 
cajoling, reassuring, kidding, promising, but they remained ap- 
prehensive. Peary had a final argument, which he now used. First 
he laid out a display of equipment on the mess-room table, then 
covered it with a sheet and told Henson to summon the Eskimos. 
They trooped in and stood around the table, wives slightly be- 
hind husbands. 

Peary held up twenty-one matches in his hand, each match 
representing a sledge and team and driver. Putting the matches on 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 157 ] 

the edge of the table, he aimed them toward a bottle standing 
in the middle. He then advanced all the matches five inches toward 
the bottle. Three of the matches were returned to the starting 
point. Peary advanced the rest of them another five inches. Then 
another three were returned, while the rest advanced again. 
This continued until there were only three or four matches 
making it all the way to the bottle. 

The weakest men would be sent back on each returning party, 
Peary explained, and when they got back they could live on the 
ship and not have to go out on the sea again. However, four 
Eskimos would go all the way to the Pole with him. And he now 
wanted to show what each of these four men would receive. He 
whipped off the white cloth and a gasp of astonishment went up 
from the Eskimos. There on the table were two rifles, one shot- 
gun, all kinds of knives, lance heads, shot and powder and re- 
loading equipment, tobacco, oil, wood for sledges. And in addi- 
tion to all this, each man would receive a whaleboat. 

The men were thrilled, but the widest eyes and the biggest 
grins were on the wives' faces. It was obvious they would urge 
on their husbands. 

The final land camp, the actual jumping-off place onto the sea, 
was to be Cape Columbia, a promontory about seventy-five miles 
northwest of the Roosevelt at Cape Sheridan. The sun had not yet 
come up over the horizon, and using lanterns to light the way, 
Bartlett started out with an advance division on February 15. 
The others followed shortly after, Peary coining last. When he 
approached Cape Columbia he met Borup and MacMillan on the 
trail, and each was surprised at the other. Peary had shaved off 
his famous walrus mustache, as he always did on the trail, and 
it was startling to see him without it for the first time. 

Peary took a look at them and said briskly, "Borup, your face 
is frozen." Then turning to MacMillan, he added, "MacMillan, 
your nose is gone." 

MacMiflan felt his face, and his nose was still in place but hard 
as a block of wood. "How cold is it, Commander? " he asked. 

"About fifty-seven below," Peary said. 

[ 158 ] AHDOOLO! 

This final land camp seethed with activity. Sledges were 
bottoms-up, their runners being burnished and their lashing 
checked; parted traces were being repaired; Henson, the only 
tinsmith, was soldering fuel tins that had been punctured on the 
rough trip from Cape Sheridan; six dogs had died from throat 
distemper on the march and the survivors were being sorted into 
the most effective teams; two Eskimos had become incapaci- 
tated, one with a frozen heel and the other with a swollen knee, 
and the supporting divisions were being reorganized. 

Through it all they kept looking at the horizon, waiting for 
the sun. The dawn of the long Arctic day was dangerous be- 
cause there were no shadows, and without them, men and dogs 
often failed to see holes and crevasses. It would be almost an- 
other two weeks before they moved out. And during this time 
the men worked under the tension imposed upon them by the 
vast stretches of ice rubble to the north. The Eskimos whispered 
to each other with dread. 

March 1 was the last possible date to leave, according to Peary's 
calculations, and during the final week of February he and 
Henson scanned the north horizon for the dreaded "water sky." 
The moment the sun was full up open leads of water would in- 
crease, their presence indicated by a cloud above them. These 
were the most dangerous hazards, and yet they could not be 
avoided by wintertime travel because of winter's absence of 
light. It was Peary's hope to get to the Pole and back before 
the full summer sun created sufficient open water to trap them. 

On the evening of February 27 Peary called the expedition to 
his igloo for a final briefing. This meant they were to start on the 
next day. Now that the moment was here, each man reacted ac- 
cording to his own nature and his own need. Peary, whose need 
was the greatest, so great in fact as to border on the pathological, 
responded with merciless self-discipline. In coldly scientific words 
he laid out the problems and the measures they would take to 
meet them. He did not minimize; he admitted to past failures 
and mistakes, but expressed the utmost confidence in their 
abilities to make this expedition a success. There was no pep 

The Biography of Matthew A. Hewon [ 159 ] 

talk, no razzle-dazzle, no attempt to find inspiration in mysticism, 
and yet he did inspire the men. His own confidence in the face 
of the frightening logic of their position made his subordinates 
believe in success. 

After an hour of quiet talk he dismissed them. They drifted 
across the frozen, surrealist landscape in ones and twos, then 
entered Bardett's igloo. They found it impossible to sleep im- 
mediately, and so in Bartlett's igloo they broke out a bottle of 
brandy and had a drink. They began to talk excitedly, their 
buoyant spirits no longer held in check by the realism of the 

Henson sat back and did not join in the eager talk. Tomorrow 
was to bring no new adventure for him, and he felt an emotion 
apparently unshared by these young men fear. Delay always 
infected him with this sickening mood, and he knew from ex- 
perience that once he was on the trail, when things began to 
happen, he would shed the fear and lose himself in a trance of 
action. But tonight there was the old feeling of emptiness in the 
pit of his stomach. 

Then, suddenly, an amazing thing happened before his eyes. 
Young George Borup jumped to his feet, clutched his fists in 
front of him as if he were going to strike someone, then opened 
his mouth and let out a blood-curdling cry. This amazing sound 
was followed by a rapid sequence of consonants, then a rackety- 
rack, and a siss-boom-bah! He was giving a college yell! 

Everyone laughed and clapped his hands, and now the others 
were encouraged to perform. MacMillan sang the Bowdoin col- 
lege song. Then Marvin, in a clear, true voice, sang: 

Far above Cayuga's waters 

With its waves of blue, 

Stands our noble Alma Mater, 

Glorious to view. 

Lift the chorus, speed it onward, 

Loud her praises tell; 

Hail to thee, our Alma Mater, 

Hail, oh hail, Cornell! 

[ 160 ] AHDOOLO! 

After Goodsell had sung his school song, Borup bounced up 
again and began Yale's "Whiffenpoof Song." They all knew this 
and soon the measured chorus filled the igloo. 

There was a sweet sadness about the song and as the last note 
lingered in the Arctic air, Henson could see that the men who 
had sung it were deeply moved. They were bound together by 
common memories and experiences that were somehow distilled 
in this little song. None of these emotions or memories could be 
shared by Henson, and he slipped quietly out of the igloo and 
walked slowly toward his own cold bed. On the way he passed 
Peary's igloo, and there was a light still burning within. He 
guessed what was now happening. 

Peary had stripped to the waist and around his torso he was 
wrapping an old, patched piece of silk. It was an American flag, 
but not just any American flag. This one had been made by his 
wife years before and he had carried it wrapped around his body 
on every Arctic expedition. Pieces of it had been cut out and 
left under rocks at the northern terminus of each trip, and now 
the flag was patched in a half-dozen places. He had vowed he 
would carry this piece of silk to the North Pole. 

Each man on the expedition had his own tribal sort of ritual 
to ease the weight of fear. Each man but Henson. 

[ XVIII ] 

Henson routed out the Eskimos with a shouted, "Ahdoolo! 
Ahdoolo!" It was his own made-up word that meant to get out 
of bed and go to work. Normally the Eskimos laughed when they 
heard the word, but this morning the laughter was short-lived, 
for they remembered that this was the day they were to venture 
onto the ice cap, the place they called Ser-mik-suah, the abode 
of evil spirits. 

Henson gave them no time to brood on the fact; he was every- 
where, giving orders, supervising the final hitching up of the 
dogteams. Within a short time everything was ready and Peary 
made a final inspection. Man and dog power did not conform to 
his precise plans, he foun'd. Disease, normal wear and tear, and, 
in a few cases, malingering had reduced his complement but it 
was still adequate to the job. He was placing in the field twenty- 
two men and nineteen teams of seven dogs each. 

The departure was quiet. There were no speeches, no waving 
and shouting. The fur-muffled figures took their positions behind 
their sledges, cracked their long whips and cried, "Hukl Huk!" 
And they moved off the land and onto the frozen sea. The course 
was a little west of true north, thus compensating for the easterly 
drift of the pack. The goal, beneath the North Star, was 400 
miles away. 

C 161 ] 

[ 162 ] AHDOOLO! 

Bartlett and Borup were breaking trail and the main party fol- 
lowed their sledge tracks. The impress of steel sledge runners on 
the compacted snow would last for months, if there was not too 
much ice motion, and this helped keep the sprawling party on 
the same course. 

They passed beyond the ice foot where the rafted floes were 
pressured by the tides, and the going became a bit easier. Still, on 
that first day, two wrecked sledges were met returning from the 
advance party. The upstanders had been ripped off and one side 
of one sledge split from stem to stern. In such cold weather the 
wood was extremely brittle and to have two casualties on the first 
day was disturbing. They were close enough to shore to obtain 
replacements from the base at Cape Columbia, but after this 
the wrecked sledges would either have to be repaired by Henson 
or abandoned. 

The main party covered ten miles on the first march, then 
made camp and built their igloos. Each sub-party leader slept 
in an igloo with the Eskimos under his command. The Eskimos 
were nervous, seeing bad omens in practically everything that 
happened. MacMillan had trouble with his men that first night. 

He wrote of it: 

Our snow igd-loos were up in an hour. The dogs were given 
their one pound of frozen pemmican each, and were sound asleep in 
a few minutes, round balls of fur in the snow, with their bushy tails 
a coverlet for eyes and nose. A few deft strokes of the snow knife 
fashioned a door for the entrance, and this was sealed with loose 
snow as tightly as any block in the structure. A peephole over the 
door to watch the dogs and a four-inch ventilation hole in the roof 
completed our shelter. 

Six ounces of alcohol were poured into the aluminum cup of our 
stove but it refused to burn. A lighted match went out as if it had 
been put into a cup of water. The Eskimos were plainly worried. It 
always did burn, why not now? An evil spirit must be in the igd-loo. 
Immediately Commander [Peary] dispelled all fears by tearing up 
bits of paper and placing them upon the surface of the alcohol which 
refused to evaporate in such low temperature. The heat from the 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 163 ] 

burning paper completed the work, and in nine minutes we had 
hot tea. 42 

This was but a foretaste of the effects of intense cold. During 
the days to come the few bottles of medicinal whisky froze solid, 
kerosene froze into a mush, and condensed milk became brittle 
as rock candy. Frostbite appeared on noses and cheeks as black 
patches; the tips of fingers became horny, cracked, and bleeding. 
And since it caused excruciating pain to breathe in the frozen air 
through the tender passages of the nose, all the men had to 
breathe through their mouths. This caused the condensation of 
breath around the face. The moisture then froze the hood of the 
kooleth until it sometimes became impossible for a man to turn 
his head. 

As they began the second day's march they saw ahead ominous 
clouds marking the presence of open water. Soon they came to a 
lead a quarter-mile wide, and it had opened since the advance 
party had passed. There was nothing to do but make camp and 
wait for the lead to freeze over or close. 

At this moment some of the men wondered why a boat had 
not been provided for such an emergency. Peary had carefully 
considered this but decided it was impractical. There were 
twenty-two men, nineteen sledges, and 133 dogs, plus five tons of 
supplies and equipment no job for a canvas boat. By the time a 
substantial craft was loaded, the lead might close. Also, such a 
boat would be a mass of ice in one crossing and useless thereafter. 
In comparatively warm temperatures farther south the Eskimos 
sometimes placed inflated sealskins under their sledges, thus con- 
verting them into crude boats for small leads. Though Peary had 
several such floats with him, he knew that such a method would 
be impractical in these northern temperatures of forty and fifty 
degrees below zero. A sealskin dipped into these waters would 
become a sheet of metal, and could never again be refolded or 
packed without breaking. There was no practical solution to the 
crossing of an open lead save that of waiting for it to freeze over 
or to close. 

During that night the air was suddenly filled with crashing 

[ 164 ] AHDOOLO! 

and screaming, which meant the shores of the lead were being 
pressed together. They broke camp and crossed over, but now 
there was no sign of the trail made by Borup's and Bartlett's 
advance parties. When the lead closed, the northern ice had 
shifted a mile and a half, and it required extensive lateral ex- 
ploration to find the trail and continue north. 

A few hours' march and they discovered a trail returning, 
headed toward land! These marks had been made by Borup's 
sub-party, who had come south to make contact with the main 
party but missed it in the shifting ice. Borup had gone on to the 
shore base to pick up additional supplies of the vitally needed 
alcohol. Peary immediately dispatched Marvin and old Kyotah, an 
expert trail-finder, back to shore to find Borup and bring him 
forward to the main party. 

During that night the main party made Bartlett's third advance 
station and occupied his abandoned igloos. They watched with 
great concern as the thermometers began to rise. During that 
night the temperature rose from fifty degrees below zero to only 
nine degrees below. This was bad news, indeed, for it meant 
more open water. And they hadn't even yet come to the Big 
Lead, the principal barrier between them and the floating ice cap 
on which rode the North Pole. 

After a brief sleep, the expedition roused itself, had breakfast, 
harnessed up the dogs, and pushed on. Within an hour they 
came upon Bartlett and his Eskimos. They had built their igloo 
and were camped beside a vast expanse of water, the Big Lead. 
It was one hundred yards wide and extended to the east and west 
as far as the eye could see. The water was black and restless. To 
fall into it meant death. 

Bartlett greeted them dolefully. "I've been here twenty-four 

Peary nodded. "We expected some hold-up at the Big Lead." 

"It'll never freeze over in this weather," Bartlett said. 

"Then we'll have to wait for it to close." 

"Commander, it's wider today than it was yesterday, by God!" 

"It'll close," Peary said firmly. "Or freeze. We'll get across it." 

In his determined optimism Peary did not mention the fact 
that rime was of the essence. They could certainly get across 
going north, but if it was too late in the season, the summer sun 
might well prevent their recrossing it on the way home. 

They made camp and the south shore of the Big Lead was 
dotted with igloos and sledges and dogs and impatient men. They 
waited the next day, and the next, and the next. The morale of 
the Eskimos began to sink. They stared across the open water at 
the distant ice cap and more and more it looked like the Abode of 
Evil Spirits. And even if they did cross this water they might 
never return. They might never again see their wives and children. 

Henson encouraged them and bolstered them the best he could, 
but there came a time when his words were helpless against the 
facts. The Eskimos demanded to know why the Big Lead re- 
mained open. It could only be because of the spirits' anger at 
their invasion. Any man could see that. Even Pearyaksoah under- 
stood it, for see how he frowned and paced alone. He obviously 
knew that his magic was not strong enough to force the waters 
to close. 

The inaction was indeed getting on Peary's nerves. In writing 
of this, Peary revealed pessimism for the first time: "Only one 
who has been in a similar position could understand the gnawing 
torment of those days of forced inaction, as I paced the floe in 
front of the igloos most of the time, climbing every little while 
to the top of the ice pinnacle back of the igloos to strain my eyes 
through the dim light. . . ." 43 

After four days Henson saw panic building among his Eskimo 
friends and he took the problem, not to the preoccupied com- 
mander, but to MacMillan. This young teacher had developed 
into a resourceful trail man and had Peary's confidence. Henson 
explained to him that if something wasn't done to divert the 
Eskimos there was a chance of mass desertion and a break for 

MacMillan thought about the problem for a moment, then 
asked, "Do the Eskimos have any contests? Any athletics?" 

[ 166 ] AHDOOLO! 

"There's a fingerpull, and a wristpull, and wrestling," Matt 

"Good! We'll add a tug of war, sprints, jumps, rekys, weight 
lifting! We'll have our own field day and our own Arctic 
Olympics. Tell the men there will be prizes for the champions 
and a chance for all to prove their mettle!" 

It turned into a great day with excitement running high. 
Sprints were a little difficult in the heavy clothing, and compli- 
cated by the fact that the noncompetitive Eskimos couldn't 
seem to get the idea they were to run against each other, beat 
the other man over the finish line. Still, the prizes were proudly 
received and, more important, all thought of the open water, the 
malevolent Styx, was banished. 

The excitement of the games occupied the Eskimos for two 
days, and then the old fears began to creep back among them. 
March 9, 10, and 11 were days of waiting and watching. Precious 
time was disappearing, food was being eaten, fuel consumed, and 
the distance to the Pole was being shortened by not a single yard. 
A pressing new problem was intensified by this delay: Borup 
and Marvin had not arrived. They were bringing new supplies 
of fuel that Peary considered essential to the expedition, espe- 
cially since the long wait here at the Big Lead, and each day he 
scanned the horizon to the south for some sign of them. But 
there was none. 

Dissatisfaction among the Eskimos reached a new peak, and 
this time Peary took a hand, calling Henson to his igloo for con- 
sultation. "There are always some ringleaders in this kind of 
thing, Matt," he said. "Who talks most against going on? Who is 
most fearful and disloyal? Who infects the others?" 

"Pooadloona is the worst," Henson said. "He is a quitter and a 
whiner. There is no way I can talk to him." 
"And who else?" 

"I am going to banish them," Peary said. "I'll give them the 
poorest dogs and enough food and send them home without any 
presents of weapons or wood. They will not be allowed to stay 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 167 ] 

aboard the Roosevelt but must walk all the way back to their 
village at Etah. That will stiffen the rest of the Eskimos." 

Henson could think of no good argument against this step, 
and it reacted upon the rest of the men just as Peary had pre- 
dicted. As the two lonely figures hitched up their dogs and drove 
away in the mysterious half-light of the Polar ice cap, their 
friends watched them go with sober eyes. There were no com- 
plaints that night. 

For the past two days the temperature had been going down. 
On March 11 the day was clear and calm and forty degrees 
below zero. The Big Lead was frozen over. Peary gave orders 
to strike camp. In his igloo he left a note for Marvin and Borup. 
It read: 

Have waited here [6] days. Can wait no longer. We are short of 
fuel. Push on with all possible speed to overtake us. Shall leave note 
at each camp. When near us rush light sledge and note of informa- 
tion about to overhaul us. Expect send back Dr. & Eskimos 3 to 5 
marches from here. He should meet you & give you information. We 
go straight across this lead (E.S.E.). There has been no lateral mo- 
tion of the ice during 7 days. Only open and shut. Do not camp 
here. CROSS THE LEAD. Feed full rations & speed your dogs. It is vital 
you overtake us and give us fuel. Leaving at 9 a.m. Thursday, Mar. 
11. PEARY. P.S. On possibility you arrive too late to follow us, have 
asked captain take general material from your bags. 44 

On March 12 MacMillan was sent forward to break trail and 
now it was his turn to face the difficulties of navigation. The 
simple process of using a compass was complicated by the fact 
that they were north of the Magnetic North Pole. Also, the 
Magnetic Pole is not constant, but undergoes yearly geographical 
changes. Generally it is in the area of Canada's Boothia Penin- 
sula and Prince of Wales Land, fluctuating between 70 and 74 
degrees north latitude. When the expedition left land at Cape 
Columbia it was about 787 miles north of the Magnetic North 
Pole, and they got farther from it each day. MacMillan was 
working with a compass that pointed various degrees of south- 

[ 168 ] AHDOOLO! 

Moreover, it was not entirely accurate even in its designation 
of the shifting Magnetic Pole. There is a degree of error in all 
needles, depending in large measure on geographical location. 
Accurate navigation is possible only when the variation between 
what the needle points and true north is known. Now, on March 
12 in the Arctic ice cap, MacMillan calculated that the westerly 
variation of his compass was 112 degrees. 

MacMillan wrote of that day: 

To keep a fairly accurate course toward the Pole, it was our custom 
to place the compass in the snow, well away from any local attrac- 
tion such as metal on sledges or equipment, and sight due north 
allowing for a westerly variation of the compass of one hundred and 
twelve degrees. We then worked for several hours toward the most 
conspicuous landmark, such as a peculiarly shaped knob of ice which 
happened to be on the course. 

On reaching our objective, the compass was then resorted to for a 
new course. No astronomical observations for latitude and longitude 
were taken for the simple reason that up to this time the sun had 
reached the altitude of only about one degree and a half above the 
horizon. Under such conditions accurate observations are impossible 
and absolutely useless. 45 

Two marches behind the main party, Borup and Marvin came 
to the Big Lead and found the commander's note. They asked for 
a volunteer among their Eskimos to sledge forward and notify 
Peary that they were about to cross the Big Lead and were 
bringing the alcohol. Seegloo volunteered and made two forced 
marches, the second one of eighteen hours. Then, after sleeping 
but four hours, made another double march to catch the main 
party and tell them the news. Seegloo made a classic record of 
trail travel, and as a result of this he was one of the four Eskimos 
ultimately chosen by Peary to accompany him on the final dash 
to the Pole. 

By the time the party was reunited, they had been on the trail 
for half a month, and the hardships were beginning to tell, on 
both dogs and men. Breaking trail was particularly hard, and 
even so stout and courageous a man as Bob Bartlett had to be 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 169 ] 

withdrawn from time to time. MacMillan, who broke trail with 
him for several marches, wrote: "... I saw so strong a man as 
Bob Bartlett break down and want his mother as we shivered and 
shook together on a snow bed in the Far North, his undercloth- 
ing wringing wet, his clothing a mass of ice, his face scarred with 
frost, his fingers hard, horny and cracked, his body chafed to 
sores by walking, plodding endlessly on. . . ." 46 

The almost incredible thing was that under these conditions no 
man wanted to turn back (except some of the Eskimos). They 
all knew that only one of them could go the final distance with 
Peary, and every man wanted to be that one. And failing to be 
the final one, every man wanted to be allowed to go as far north 
as possible. They were all completely dedicated, not only to 
Peary, but to the project, to the conquest. 

Since the note left for Borup and Marvin, everyone knew that 
Dr. Goodsell would be the first sent back. Nor was there any 
surprise at this. Goodsell, a ponderous man, was the least effec- 
tive on the trail and, being a doctor, the one most needed back 
aboard ship with the crew. 

On March 14 a sounding was made and the bottom found at 
825 fathoms. This meant that the edge of the continental shelf 
had been left far behind and it was time to reduce the number of 
mouths to be fed. At this point Goodsell was directed to return 
to shore. But now something unforeseen happened, a development 
that was to upset the sledging schedules and be a personal blow 
to Peary. It concerned MacMillan. 

As had become custom on the expedition, the problem was 
brought to Henson for an opinion before being presented to 
Peary. Henson was in his igloo with his Eskimos, preparing to 
bed down, when MacMillan crawled through the entrance and 
sat for a moment beside the small stove, warming his hands on 
the cylinder. Henson could see that his guest was disturbed, but 
he asked no questions. He let MacMillan take his own time. 
There was some small talk, discussion of the trail, of the dogs, 
the Eskimos. Then suddenly MacMillan pulled off his kamik 
and then his sheepskin stocking. 

[ 170 ] AHDOOLO! 

"Matt, I want you to look at my foot," he said. 

Henson knelt down and took the foot in his hands, held it up 
to the flickering light from the stove. Then he looked at Mac- 
Millan's worried face. "How long has it been like this?" he asked. 

"Ever since I got to Cape Columbia," MacMillan said. "The 
other one is frozen, too. But I can do my work. I've done it 
this far, haven't I?" 

"Yes, but the time may come when you can't." 

"You think I should show them to the commander?" 

"Absolutely," Henson said. 

MacMillan put his kamik back on, left Henson's igloo, and 
walked the few yards to Peary's. When the commander took one 
look at the foot he said, "You'll return to the ship at once and 
get those feet taken care of." 

He did not say a word about his disappointment. He had come 
to depend greatly on MacMillan, had planned to take him far 
north, perhaps even all the way. They walked out on the trail 
together, then Peary grasped MacMillan warmly by the hand 
and said, "If I am not back by the first of June, tell Mr. Gushue 
[first mate] to get the ship ready and go home. And, MacMillan, 
if you can possibly do it, sledge westward to Ward Hunt Island 
and place there a cache of food. Also lay down caches of food on 
the North Greenland shore. We may land there starving, as we 
did on the last trip." 

On March 14 Goodsell with two Eskimos, one sledge, and 
twelve dogs turned south. On March 15 MacMillan with two 
sledges, two Eskimos, and fourteen dogs turned south. Borup, 
Marvin, Bardett, Henson, and Peary continued north. Henson 
went ahead to break trail. 

Late in the afternoon of the 15th there came loud reports and 
rumblings from the north. This could only mean that leads were 
opening up ahead. When they came to open water they made it 
across by loading the dogs and sledges onto large ice cakes and 
ferrying them across. Borup's team started to slip into the water 
but he grabbed the traces and pulled them to safety, saving the 
precious supplies on the sledge. 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 171 ] 

At the end of five marches it was time to send back another 
supporting party. Peary chose Borup. This was a big disap- 
pointment to the young man, but he recognized that he was the 
least experienced of the men left, and he took the decision with 
a show of good humor. He had hoped to go farther, but said he 
was grateful to be allowed to go this far. He was at 85 degrees, 
23 minutes north latitude. 

With three Eskimos and sixteen of the poorest dogs, he headed 
back toward shore. He later wrote: "I knew that from now on 
the Eskimos would need no urging to travel long and sleep little 
and hustle all the time." 47 Borup's party made land at Cape 
Columbia in seven marches, as against eleven outward ones. 

The remaining units were now reorganized, each unit being 
made up of three men instead of four. It was now continuous 
daylight and the trail-breaking party could start out twelve hours 
ahead of the main body, each morning abandoning its igloos for 
the oncoming men. Having a ready-made igloo waiting at the 
end of a day's march was a great boon to the men of the main 
party. Of course, it was a double burden on the trail-makers. This 
job was rotated between Marvin, Bartlett, and Henson. Peary 
always came up in the rear, not only to keep effective command 
and see that no Eskimos fled, but also to save himself for the final 
effort at the Pole. 

On March 23 the camp was past the 86th parallel, 200 miles 
from land. On March 26 they were at 86 degrees, 38 minutes, and 
it was time to send another supporting party back. Henson con- 
fided in his diary that he expected to receive the order, but it 
was given to Marvin. With two Eskimos, one sledge, and seven- 
teen dogs he turned south with Peary's final warning in his ears: 
"Be careful of the leads, my boy." 

Marvin survived the leads, but not his companions. On April 10, 
just a few inarches from shore, he was murdered by one of the 
Eskimos. There had been a quarrel over rations and whether or 
not the younger Eskimo boy was to be allowed to ride on the 
sledge. He claimed to be very tired, but Marvin refused permis- 
sion. Thereupon, the older Eskimo, a cousin, took up the quarrel 

[ 172 ] AHDOOLO! 

with Marvin, finally grabbing a gun and shooting him in the 
head. Marvin's body was thrown into the water of the first open 

Since murder is an adjunct of civilization and almost unknown 
among the Eskimos, this act revealed the great pressures under 
which these simple people were being placed. 

When the Eskimos first returned to the Roosevelt they reported 
merely that Marvin had slipped and drowned. It was not until 
years later, when the murderer was baptized a Christian, that he 

The expedition had now been reduced to three parties: Hen- 
son's, Bartlett's, and Peary's. They had superior dogs and in- 
creased rations and steadily improving ice conditions. True, the 
wind continued to be in the northerly quadrants, not pleasant to 
face, but they traveled fast, with five marches averaging 15.8 
nautical miles. On March 28 they passed Peary's 1906 record, 
87 degrees, 6 minutes north latitude. If nothing else, they were 
now the farthest north of any men in the history of civilization. 
But that was not enough . . . for any of them. And the great, 
unspoken question that loomed was who would be ordered to 
turn back next. Would it be Bartlett or Henson? This would be 
the final turn-back; the remaining man would share Peary's des- 

On the night of March 29 they faced a wide lead and made 
camp. Bartlett took a sounding and found no bottom at 1,260 
fathoms. Leads suddenly opened between their igloos and the 
party was threatened with separation and perhaps even drowning. 
But the weather turned mercifully cold, thirty degrees below 
zero, with a bitter northwest breeze. The lead froze over and 
they were able to advance, but over ice so thin that it buckled 
beneath their sledges as they raced full speed across it. 

April 1 would see the completion of five marches since Mar- 
vin's turn-back; it would be the cut-off point for the last sup- 
porting party. Peary now had to choose the man to continue 
with him. He told Bartlett to prepare to return to shore. Henson 
was to continue. 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 173 ] 

Strangely, no one seemed surprised or disappointed. Bartlett 
had just about worn himself out, for he had broken trail most of 
the time. He had one request, that he be allowed to make a 
short forced march north by himself in the hope of passing the 
88th parallel. This was granted, and when he returned to camp 
he took an observation and found the camp was at 87 degrees, 
46 minutes, 49 seconds. He now knew he had failed to make the 
88th, but he had been farther north than any other human being 
on record. 

Now two Eskimos and the poorer dogs, eighteen of them, were 
sorted out for Bartlett's return. Four Eskimos were to go on 
north with Peary and Henson. They were Ootah, Ooqueah, See- 
gloo, and Egingwah. 

The farewells were almost casual. "Good-by, Captain," Peary 
said. "Take care of yourself. Clean up the ship when you get 
back. Don't worry about me. I'll be back." 

Bartlett tried to thank him for the honor of coming this far, 
but he turned inarticulate. Peary broke in, "It's all in the game. 
And you've been at it long enough to know how hard a game 
it is." 

Bartlett nodded and said, "Good-by, sir." 

Henson was waiting for Bartlett by his sledge and when the 
bluff and grizzled sea captain came up to him there was a moment 
of speechless emotion. 

"The commander is tired," Bartlett finally said. 

'We're all tired," Matt said with a grin. 

"God, yes," Bartlett said with feeling. After another moment 
of silence, "Take care of him, Matt." 

"We'll take care of each other. Like always." 

"How long you two been searching for the goddamn Pole?" 

"Eighteen years." 

Baitlett shook his head. "Eighteen years!" He thrust out his 
hand. "This time you gotta make it, Matt." 

Henson agreed. "This time we gotta." 

Bardett waved his hand, then became part of a small caravan 
south. It grew smaller and smaller and finally disappeared. 

[ 174 ] AHDOOLO! 

Peary and Henson stood alone. After eighteen years in the 
North and dozens of companions they again stood alone. They 
were 132 miles from the North Pole. They stood at the precipice 
of their lives. Within a matter of days they would be heroes or 
they would be dead. 

What had driven them to the point of this awful choice? Or 
rather, to the point of no choice at all? In some future leisure, 
if there was to be any, they might be able to count the spurs 
that gouged their flesh, but not now. Now their bodies were 
living pain, giving no room for contemplation, or for any thought. 
They were now automatons whose springs had been wound and 
whose courses had been set at some earlier time. 

They were capable only of marching northward as long as 
they could walk, and failing that, they would crawl, and failing 
their goal, they would die. If they were not insane, there was in 
them a lack of sanity. 


They planned to reach the Pole in five marches. How many 
marches had they made in their twenty-two years together? Two 
thousand? Four thousand? They didn't know. But five more 
marches seemed now so very few. Surely, nothing could prevent 
them from reaching the Pole. 

At midnight on April 2 Henson left camp with his team to 
break trail. Following him came Ootah, then the main party with 
Peary. Henson marched for ten hours, then made camp and 'with 
Ootah built the igloos for the overtaking party. They had cov- 
ered thirty miles. 

They took only a few hours' sleep and were off again on the 
morning of April 3. The weather was clear and calm. They 
covered twenty miles and made camp. 

Again they took only the minimum sleep, and shortly after 
midnight on April 4 they were again moving forward. There 
was one disturbing development: the temperature kept rising. 
Also, the tides of the approaching full moon were at work. The 
opening of major leads was to be expected at any moment. In 
fact, the entire Polar cap might become fragmented, and this 
gave urgency to their marches. That they might be trapped by 
open waters and never be able to return south to shore was not 

[ 175 ] 

[ 176 ] AHDOOLO! 

what quickened them, but the fear that they might be cut off from 
their prize to the north. 

With the reduction of loads through the consumption of food 
and fuel, they were able to press on with the illusion of greater 
speed. Actually, their own exhaustion was such that they were 
just able to keep the pace. 

On the evening of April 4 Peary took a sight with the sextant. 
It was a long and difficult operation, particularly because of the 
condition of his eyes. Both he and Henson were suffering from 
snow-blindness, and the ulcerated condition of his eyeballs made 
it torture to remove the heavily smoked glasses and look with 
naked eyes into the instrument. After a long and careful look and 
figuring with pencil and paper, he said, "We're at 89 degrees." 

They were one degree from the Pole! Sixty miles away was 
the prize. 

They started north, driving the dogs at a trot. On the night of 
April 5 they found themselves completely played out and had 
to camp for sleep. When they awoke, observation showed them 
at 89 degrees, 25 minutes, which meant they were thirty-five 
miles from the Pole. They could make it in a single march, with 
any luck. Surely they had earned some luck. 

The next march was begun before midnight of April 5. The 
sky was overcast. Very little snow lay upon the ice, so little that 
it had been difficult to make igloos at this camp. The air tem- 
perature had risen to fifteen degrees below zero, which lessened 
the friction of the sledge runners on the ice but increased the 
danger of leads. 

Henson went forward to break trail. After a run of what he 
estimated to be fifteen miles, he held up for Peary and the Eski- 
mos to join him and they had tea. They now believed them- 
selves ten miles short of the Pole. A final march! Henson snapped 
his long whip above the ear of his king dog, cried "Huk!" and the 
sledge moved forward with the sibilance of steel on ice, a sound 
that seemed to have been in his ears for a lifetime. Ootah moved 
his sledge in behind. Ooqueah, Seegloo, Egingwah, and Peary 
prepared to follow. 

The Biography of Matthew A. Benson [ 177 ] 

Henson trotted beside his sledge, feeling a mounting excite- 
ment. His exhaustion, his frozen flesh, his lacerated eyeballs were 
all forgotten in the drama of each yard gained. In this fever of the 
final chase he also lost some of his judgment There could be no 
other explanation of what now happened. 

He came to the edge of a lead that had only recently frozen 
over with young ice. His team drew up and waited for his order. 
Normally he would have scouted to east or west to find firmer 
ice, but he could not endure the thought of such delay. He 
viewed the young ice and decided it would hold. "Huk!" he 
cried, and snapped the whip. 

A few yards onto the ice and it was clear they were in trouble. 
The thin sheet began to bend, to undulate beneath their weight. 
The dogs crouched to their bellies and whimpered, but Henson 
refused to turn back. "Huk!" he cried. And as they advanced he 
walked spread-legged to distribute his weight. 

A new, cutting sound came to his ears and he looked down to 
see that the sledge runners were cutting through the bending 
sheet of ice and throwing up a wet wake of bubbles. He cried out 
frantically to the dogs and threw his weight against the sledge 
in an effort to get it on firm ice. But this pressure was fatal, for 
it broke the ice beneath his feet and he went down. For a mo- 
ment his furs were buoyant and waterproof, then he felt the 
searing pain of the water pouring into his boots. He began strik- 
ing out, clutching for something solid, but the thin ice broke 
beneath his flailing arms and the pain came higher and higher on 
his body. 

He was filled with a wild anger against the fate that had 
brought him within a few miles of the Pole, only then to de- 
stroy him. Still pain crept upward, and there was nothing he 
could do. 

Suddenly his descent was checked; then, by some miracle, he 
began to rise in the water. He felt himself being lifted clear of 
the water and dropped down on firm ice, like a beached fish. 
He looked up into the brown and stolid face of Ootah who still 
gripped him by the back of his kooletah. 

[ 178 ] AHDOOLO! 

Without a word the Eskimo went efficiently about the work 
to be done. He tethered the dogs, pulled off Matt's boots to put 
his feet against his own warm, dry belly, and then began methodi- 
cally to beat the ice out of Matt's bearskin pants. When the feet 
were warm, he got dry boots from the sledge and helped Matt 
into them. 

There was no way Matt could thank his friend for saving his 
life; this was a normal and almost routine act on the trail. He 
smiled at the Eskimo and said, "Ootah is very strong." 

Ootah frowned, disdainful of such flattery. He said, "Ootah 
not piblokto like Miy Paluk. Ootah not go out on young ice." 

Henson accepted the deserved rebuke and busied himself un- 
tangling the trace on his team. The main party had now caught 
up with them, and it was discovered that Peary, too, had gone 
through the ice, though not so badly. He had changed his kamiks 
and was striding quickly to keep the circulation going in his feet. 

Peary led the combined party a few miles north, then called a 
halt. He said to Henson in a matter-of-fact voice, "Matt, this 
may be it. We'll take an observation." 

There was a wind blowing and Henson knew what had to be 
done. With his snow knife he built a snow windshield. Then he 
took the instrument box and bedded it firmly in the snow leeward 
of the shield. He threw down a fur skin, partly to protect Peary's 
eyes during the observation and partly to keep die snow from 
melting by body heat and thus unsettling the instrument box. 

Their latitude would be determined by the altitude of the sun 
above the visible horizon as measured by a sextant. However, 
there was no horizon this day. Gray sky blended into gray ice 
without anything to mark where one or the other ended. It was, 
therefore, necessary for Peary to make an artificial horizon. 

He placed a small wooden trough on top of the level instru- 
ment box and filled it with mercury that had been carried next to 
his body to keep it fluid. Then he covered the trough with two 
panes of glass, placed like a tent, to prevent any air currents from 
rippling the surface of the mercury and distorting the sun's re- 
flection. Removing his dark glasses, painfully blinking his in- 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 179 ] 

flamed eyes, he lay down on the rug and grasped the sextant 
firmly in his hands. 

By propping himself on his elbows, he was able to look through 
the eyepiece and into the arrangement of mirrors, then make 
adjustments to bring the sun's image down until it touched the 
upper edge of its own reflection in the trough of mercury. Then 
he sat up to read the degree of arc indicated on the sextant. Using 
figures he had previously copied out of a nautical almanac and a 
table of logarithms, he did some rapid calculations. 

He looked up at Henson and in a voice flat with exhaustion 
said, "Eighty-nine degrees and 57 minutes." 

They were three miles from the Pole. 

The Pole was a concept, a microscopic spot covered by a vast 
sea of drifting ice. No instrument available to Peary v could locate 
it with final and complete accuracy. The errors inherent in his 
method meant that he might at this moment be on top of the 
Pole, or it might be three miles away in any direction. In all prac- 
tical terms they had reached their goal. 

Without another word Peary packed up his instruments. Then 
he surrendered to his body. He lay down and fell asleep. Henson 
lay down beside him and he, too, was instantly asleep. 

Seegloo, Egingwah, Ooqueah, and Ootah stood about in be- 
wilderment. This was the place, the goal, the prize? They had 
traveled all those tortuous miles for this? But it was no different 
from the sea and the ice and the sky a hundred miles south, or 
two hundred, or four! What had driven these two sleeping men 
to spend a lifetime reaching this spot? Was there something here 
their Eskimo eyes did not see? They asked each other these ques- 
tions and could find no answers. They sensed that they never 
would understand. They, too, lay down and went to sleep. 

When Henson woke up he saw Peary sitting erect but motion- 
less beside him. He remembered where they were, at the North 
Pole, and he cried out to Peary in sheer exuberance. Peary turned 
bloodshot eyes toward him and said in a dead voice, "Fll take 
Egingwah and Seegloo and make more observations." 

[ 180 ] AHDOOLO! 

Something seemed to have gone out of the man. He was on 
the verge of a physical breakdown, but it was more than that; 
the flame that had made him surmount all pain and privation 
seemed snuffed out. Henson had hoped for a response to his own 
mood of elation, of victory, but he did not find it then or later. 
For a time he thought Peary was offended with him and he tried 
to think back on what he might have done wrong. But he could 
come up with nothing. Peary had always been taciturn with him, 
but he had expected some demonstration of comradeship or tri- 
umph at this climax of their lives. He found its absence simply un- 

He might have understood if he had seen the words Peary put 
in his diary this day immediately after awaking. They were: 

". . . The Pole at last. The prize of three centuries. My dream 
and goal for twenty years. Mine at last! I cannot bring myself to 
realize it. It seems all so simple and commonplace." 48 

The attitudes of Peary and the Eskimos were not so very dif- 
ferent, after all. 

Taking two Eskimos and a double team, Peary made marches 
in several directions, each time taking observations and entering 
the result in his journal. At the end of the day he wrote: 

... I have taken thirteen single, or six and a half double, altitudes 
of the sun at two different stations, in three different directions, at 
four different times, and to allow for possible errors in the instru- 
ments and observations, have traversed in various directions an area 
of about eight by ten miles across. At some moment during these 
marches and countermarches, I had for all practical purposes passed 
over the point where north and south and east and west blend into 
one. 49 

Now, at last, Peary was ready for some ceremony. He named 
their camp "Camp Morris K. Jesup," after the president of the 
American Museum of Natural History and also of the Peary 
Arctic Club. Then he said, "Matt, line up the Eskimos for a pic- 

From beneath his kooletah he removed the patched and sweat- 
soaked American flag he had carried for so many years. Then 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 181 ] 

from his sledge he withdrew an amazing collection of other flags, 
giving one each to Seegloo, Egingwah, Ooqueah, and Ootah. As 
they lined up before Peary's camera, Henson stood in the middle 
holding the American flag; flanking him were the Eskimos holding 
the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity flag, the Navy League flag, 
the Red Cross flag, and the World Ensign of Liberty and Peace, a 
flag created by the Daughters of the American Revolution. 

"Plant the Stars and Stripes over there, Matt," Peary called. 

Henson carried the flag to a small mound of ice and drove the 
staff into the brittle surface. Then Matt instructed the Eskimos 
to join him in three cheers. 

"Hip, hip, hooray," came the straggle of voices with the strange 
accents. "Hip, hip, hooray," urged on Henson. "Hip, hip, hooray," 
came the final chorus. The words were caught up by a cutting 
wind and blown south. Every direction was south. 

It was now April 7 and the spring tides were due the last of 
April. After that, when the leads opened they would not again 
close, not until fall. And land was over 400 miles away. 

To make it home they would have to double-march all the 
way. This meant starting out in the morning and covering the 
distance previously made by one march north, then having tea 
and lunch and covering a second march. Failure to meet this 
"killing schedule by so much as a single march could only increase 
the grave danger of the trail being destroyed by shifting ice and 
impassable leads opening between them and land. 

Before setting out, Henson saw that all the dogs were double ra- 
tioned and that all the harnesses and sledges were in good repair. 
All equipment not vitally necessary to travel was jettisoned. The 
heavy reel and wire used to make soundings were discarded, thus 
eliminating a hundred pounds in weight. All they carried was 
food and fuel, of which they had plenty, and their tools and 
weapons and clothes. The trail was made; the already constructed 
igloos waited to shelter them each night. Their only opponent 
was the warm weather and, of course, their own failing strength. 

'We're ready, sir," Henson said to Peary. 

[ 182 ] AHDOOLO! 

The commander nodded and stepped out on the trail to lead 
them south. He walked bravely alone, while into line behind him 
fell the five sledges with their drivers walking behind the uprights 
and crying orders to the dogs. 

Peary set a fast pace, as he had to, but within the hour he 
staggered and almost fell. He righted himself and with supreme 
effort marched on, but again staggered. Henson ran forward to 
grab him and hold him upright. The face of his commander, black 
and crusted from frost and sun, streamed with tears that froze as 
they ran. His eyes were almost blind and the pain was excruciat- 
ing. Not only had his eyes given out; his entire body sagged 
against Henson, all the iron gone out of it. He was an old and 
sick man. 

"Egingwah!" Matt cried. "Bring sledge. Fast!" 

When the sledge came* up they hurriedly transferred its load 
to the other sledges, then placed Peary carefully upon it and 
covered him with furs. In this manner he traveled southward. It 
was not without protest from the gallant old warrior; each morn- 
ing he left camp early to walk ahead on the trail, but when the 
sledges caught up with him, he had expended his small measure 
of strength and allowed himself to ride. 

On April 9, after two days on the trail, a gale descended upon 
them. Fortunately it was from the north-northeast and to their 

The leads were beginning to widen and be more frequent, but 
as yet they continued to be covered with new ice that could 
support the lightened sledges and reduced teams. By April 10 
the dogs were beginning to show the effect of double marches 
and several of them were worn out and had to be destroyed. 
Thirty-five dogs were left, which meant seven to a sledge. On 
this day they reached the igloos where Bardett had turned back. 

The sun was becoming more dazzling each day and all of them 
had trouble with their eyes. To take off the goggles would have 
meant immediate blindness. On April 12 they arrived at the igloos 
where Marvin had turned back. They were reaching the older and 
heavier floes, making travel more difficult but safer. The principal 

The Biography of Matthew A. Benson [ 183 ] 

worry now was the Big Lead. Would it be open or closed? If 
they found it open they were doomed. 

By April 18 the dogs were almost lifeless from the driving pace 
and they had to be given a rest and double rations. But land 
clouds could be seen ahead. The Big Lead was near. The dogs 
were reduced to thirty. 

On April 20, just as they were approaching the Big Lead, 
Peary came down with the quinsy. He was feverish and his throat 
ached and he could not sleep. Yet he allowed no stop. 

April 21 they came to the Big Lead. It was frozen over. They 
passed over it and two days later came to blessed knd. 

The Eskimos went crazy with excitement and jumped and 
screamed and laughed until they had to sink to the ground and 
gasp for breath. Henson stood over them and laughed too and 
cried out, "You see . . . you see now about your devil out there 
on Ser-mik-suah?" 

Ootah nodded and said, "Yes . . . yes. The devil was asleep, 
or having trouble with his wife, or we should not have come 
back so easily." 


Of heroes, Emerson wrote: ". . . he finds a quality in him that is 
negligent of expense, of health, of life, of danger, of hatred, of 
reproach, and knows that his will is higher and more excellent 
than all actual and all possible antagonists." 

This had been the quality of Peary's life in the North. And, on 
a more modest scale, of Henson's. What Peary also had was a sense 
of history. He knew that the passion in his heart stood for his na- 
tion. He, and Henson, could not return from their triumph with- 
out some consciousness of their heroism. What they expected in 
the way of honors was locked in each man's heart, but they had 
every reason to believe it would be considerable. They were ut- 
terly unprepared for the bitter reality that awaited them. 

The drama opened slowly, with no one guessing the irony, the 
excesses that waited in the wings. They arrived at Cape Columbia 
on April 23, after sixteen marches from the Pole. After two days' 
rest they pushed on to Cape Sheridan and the Roosevelt where 
they received the tragic news of Marvin's death. The ice released 
the Roosevelt early that summer and they sailed south on July 18, 
making Etah without incident. 

The arrival at this Greenland port was cause for great celebra- 
tion. The Eskimo tribe welcomed back their relatives, their own 

C 184 ] 

The Biography of Matthew AJ Henson [ 185 ] 

heroes who had gone to the Pole. And this was the time for re- 
wards, the passing out of guns and knives and cooking utensils 
and whaleboats. But in the midst of all this an amazing bit of 
news was brought aboard by Harry Whitney, the sportsman who 
had spent the winter hunting there. Whitney said Dr. Frederick 
Cook had come through Etah this spring on his way back from 
the North and hinted that he had achieved the North Pole. 

All the members of the expedition were incredulous, and they 
demanded details from Whitney. The hunter was vague, but it 
seemed that Cook claimed to have sledged from Cape Thomas 
Hubbard to the Pole and back with two Eskimos and two sledges. 
Peary pointed out at once that the route was several hundred 
miles longer than the route taken by Henson and himself, and yet 
it was claimed to have been done without supporting parties and 
only with the supplies carried on two sledges! Experience of a 
lifetime told him this was impossible. He had spent eighteen years 
devising the logistics of supplies and supporting parties necessary 
to get to the North Pole. It was possible by no other method, he 
was convinced. 

The entire expedition tried to dismiss the news as nothing more 
than Arctic hyperbole. All sorts of fantastic stories could arise 
above the Arctic Circle, but once they moved south to the warmer 
and saner climates, they generally disappeared. Still, there was 
something about the Cook story, or rather about Cook the man, 
that promised to cling. The Peary-Cook-Henson destinies had 
been intertwined in strange ways ever since that first trip to 

There had been respect and even affection between these men 
originally. Henson was grateful for the way Cook had cared for 
his sun-blinded eyes; Peary was grateful for the skill the doctor 
had shown in setting his broken leg; both Peary and Henson had 
found the doctor a cheerful companion on the trail and had 
hoped to have him with them again. 

The break began over Peary's refusal to let Cook lecture about 
his experiences with the first North Greenland Expedition; it 
deepened as Cook lectured anyway and with florid detail that 

[ 188 ] AHDOOLO! 

camp on the northern shore of North Devon. The following May 
they crossed Smith Sound to Greenland. It was a remarkable trip, 
new islands were found, and courage and skill were shown, but 
the march did not extend to the North Pole. 

Again and again Henson questioned the Eskimos on the point. 
How far out on the Polar Sea did they go? Only one march, 
they insisted. "Miy," Etookashoo said, "we always see land. Al- 

The two boys never altered their story. Some years later Mac- 
Millan came north and engaged them to take him over the exact 
route they had traveled with Cook. It turned out to be as they 
described it this day aboard the Roosevelt. 

At last there were no more questions to be asked by Henson, 
there were no ambiguities; MacMillan had carefully charted the 
Cook route. The doctor had, at his farthest north, been 500 miles 
south of the Pole. They all sighed in relief. The sportsman Whit- 
ney must have misunderstood Cook. No man would attempt such 
a wild deception. 

During the following weeks Henson led hunting expeditions 
to supply the Eskimos with meat through the winter; then on 
August 26 the Roosevelt steamed south. They put in at Turnavik 
on the Labrador coast where coal waited, then steamed south to 
Indian Harbor where telegraph facilities would allow them to an- 
nounce their triumph to the world. They arrived on September 
6 and Peary sent wires to his wife, to the Peary Arctic Club, to 
The New York Times, and to the Associated Press. This last 
wire read simply: "Stars and stripes nailed to the Pole." 50 

These out of the way, the expedition and crew members were 
allowed to send wires to their families. Henson waited in the 
long and eager line to send his wire to Mrs. Lucy Henson in her 
Harlem apartment. He promised to come home at once, and to 

Back aboard the Roosevelt that afternoon, Henson was leaning 
on the rail to watch idly as the Fiona, a British revenue cutter, ap- 
proached. The small ship came alongside and her captain an- 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 189 ] 

nounced that he had received a message from a man named Cook 
and he thought it might be of interest to the Roosevelt. The mes- 
sage, sent from Lerwick, Shetland Islands, read: "Reached North 
Pole April 21, 1908. Discovered land far north. Return to Copen- 
hagen by steamer Hans Egede. Frederick Cook" 51 

For centuries scientists and geographers had questioned the 
possibility of man ever reaching the North Pole. Now, within a 
space of five days, two men claimed to have done it. And so the 
battle was joined. Henson was to be smack in the middle. 

Newspaper reporters sailed northward to meet Peary's boat, and 
eastward to intercept Cook in Denmark. Other explorers were 
at first reluctant to question Cook's claim for fear it would look 
like sour grapes, and the reporters were generally too caught up 
in the public enthusiasm to be searching in their stories. Of all the 
correspondents in Copenhagen to greet Cook, only two expressed 
doubts about his story. One of them was Peter Freuchen, himself 
an explorer, but his paper, the Copenhagen folittken, refused to 
print his story. 

Without hearing the complete facts, Freuchen's attitude was 
dictated by his knowledge of the two men. He later said (ap- 
propriating a woman editor's phrase), "Cook was a liar and a 
gentleman. Peary was neither." 

While the Roosevelt was slowly making her way home, Cook 
was received by the King of Denmark and, on September 7, was 
awarded the Royal Danish Geographical Society's Gold Medal. 

On the following day Peary wired to The New York Times: 

Do not trouble about Cook's story or attempt to explain any dis- 
crepancies in his installments. The affair will settle itself. He has not 
been to the Pole on April 21, 1908, or at any other time. He has 
simply handed the public a gold brick. These statements are made 
advisedly and I have proof of them. When he makes a full statement 
of his journey over his signature to some geographical society or 
other reputable body, if that statement contains the claim that he has 
reached the Pole, I shall be in a position to furnish material that may 
prove distinctly interesting reading for the public. 52 

[ 190 ] AHDOOLO! 

Peary's cable was calm, Olympian, and patronizing. And he 
completely misjudged the mood of the American public. 

Over the past twenty-two years Peary had been constantly in 
the public eye and, though a hero, the public had tired of him. 
Always he was going north to discover the Pole, and always he re- 
turned without quite doing it. Now suddenly, in the person of Dr. 
Cook, was a brand-new face. More than that, he was a loner. He 
had no elaborate equipment, no legions of supporting parties, no 
wealthy men to pay his bills, no powerful statesmen to praise him. 
He was the little man, the average man, the David who had con- 
quered where Goliath had failed. Moreover, he was undeniably 
personable. He had the common touch: he liked people and people 
liked him. They just plain wanted to believe he had discovered the 

When Peary cabled that the public had been given a gold brick, 
that public was offended; it thought its intelligence had been 
questioned. And when in reply to this harsh statement Cook 
gently said, "There is glory enough for all," the public cheered 
his generosity and damned his traducers. 


Seldom in the history of the nation had there been such acrimoni- 
ous public disputation, most of it among men who knew little 
about the Arctic regions. In fact, the less knowledge about the 
North, the more violent the partisan tended to be. Popular sympa- 
thy was reflected in the prices paid for the explorers* personal 
stories: Peary received $4,000 from the Times, Cook $24,000 from 
the Herald. A Pittsburgh newspaper conducted a popular vote 
over the question of who had discovered the Pole, and the result 
was a ten-to-one victory for Cook. Not only was Cook's claim 
being taken by many people as valid, but Peary's and Henson's 
claim was considered a He. 

There was also a small but articulate group who were not so 
much pro-Cook as anti-Peary. Prominent among them was Gen- 
eral Greely, who had long smarted under Peary's blunt analysis 
of his Arctic expedition. When he announced for Cook, he gave 
an aura of respectability to that movement which it had previously 
lacked. That he was acting from pique was not understood until 
some years later when he reversed himself and grudgingly ac- 
cepted Peary's claim as valid. He could never, of course, undo 
the harm he had done to Peary at this moment of crisis. 

Cook's return to America was a triumph. His supporters in 

[ 191 ] 

[ 192'] AHDOOLO! 

New York chartered the steamer Grand Republic and with a 
thousand aboard, steamed down the bay to meet his liner and to 
escort him to his home. A banquet was held in his honor at the 
Waldorf-Astoria and a thousand cheering men and women packed 
the grand dining room. Cook immediately entered on a lecture 
tour that was without parallel in history. Hundreds of thousands 
of dollars were taken in as the halls were packed with men who 
cheered and women who wept. 

And what of Peary and Henson and MacMillan and Borup and 
Bartlett and Goodsell? They were a shocked and subdued band 
of heroes who returned to the most vicious personal attacks. The 
height of it was, perhaps, on October 2, the Tercentenary of the 
Hudson River voyage by Robert Fulton's Clermont. A great naval 
parade up the Hudson was scheduled for the event, and before 
going north, Peary had promised that the Roosevelt would, partic- 
ipate. Though he guessed it might be painful, Peary thought 
highly of his own word and he ordered ship and crew and expedi- 
tion members to be on hand that day. 

It was a gala day, with the shores of the Hudson lined with 
people and the waters alive with small craft. There was a replica 
of the Half Moon and one of the Clermont, along with Navy and 
Coast Guard boats. The craft were to rendezvous at Newburgh 
and then sail southward past New York City and out to the 

The moment the Roosevelt steamed south down the Hudson she 
was greeted by boos and catcalls and derisive whistles. Cook sup- 
porters in boats pulled alongside to shout abusively. Peary stood 
on the f oredeck, the members of his expedition lined the rails, and 
at one point impulsive young Borup started to shout back at their 
harassers, but Peary whirled on him and said sternly, "Be quiet." 
Then to the rest of the crew and expedition he said, "No man is 
to answer back. You will stand at your posts and in silence and 
dignity. Let them shout. It does them more harm than it does us." 

Brave words, but not exactly true. The Roosevelt was jeered 
and insulted all the way to Poughkeepsie and back. Peary stood 
grimly at his post, refusing by motion or word to indicate he 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 193 ] 

heard, but every word cut his flesh. Of all the men aboard the 
Roosevelt, Henson stood the jeers with the greatest fortitude. For, 
after all, he was a Negro and he had been taunted before. 

Following this humiliation, Peary retired to his Eagle Island 
home off the coast of Maine and refused to allow any receptions 
in his honor, or to give any lectures, or to see any newspapermen 
until his claim to the Pole had been examined and declared valid 
by reputable scientific organizations. This left the field wide open 
to Dr. Cook, and he made the most of it. And, though Cook had 
no personal hand in it, Henson was to become the butt of much 
of the pro-Cook and anti-Peary propaganda. 

When Peary retired to his island, the expedition was, of course, 
disbanded. Bardett continued to make a living as a merchant cap- 
tain; the rest of the men had their college degrees and went back 
to their interrupted careers. But Henson had no degree, no career 
except that of assistant to Peary. What could he do now? 

When he first returned home to his Harlem apartment, Lucy 
announced she had quit her job at the bank. She was under the 
impression that he would make a lot of money for helping dis- 
cover the North Pole, and he had to disillusion her, gently. His 
small monthly salary of twenty-five dollars had been generally 
used up. The Peary Arctic Club voted a bonus of $250 to all 
members of the expedition and he had that money, but it was 
hardly sufficient to pay their bills for long. He would look for a 
job, of course, but in the meantime Lucy returned to the employer 
she had so proudly left and asked for her job back. She was 
given it. 

Matt got a job. It was handyman in a Brooklyn garage. His 
pay was sixteen dollars a week. 

The job was short-lived, for within that week he returned 
home one evening to find waiting for him in his living room a 
round, ebullient man smoking a big cigar. Lucy introduced him 
as Mr. William Brady. He was the famous Broadway producer 
and promoter. 

He came directly to the point of his visit. "Henson, who's 
telling the truth, Peary or Cook?" 

[ 194 ] AHDOOLO! 

"Commander Peary," Matt replied. 
"Cook never came near the Pole?" 

"No, sir. I consider Dr. Cook a friend of mine. But the truth 
is the truth. He never got out of sight of land." 

"Then why in hell don't you speak up?" Brady demanded. 
Henson smiled. "I do when anybody asks me the question." 
"You're not speaking to enough people. I want to put you on 
the platform, send you on a lecture tour." 

"I've never stood up in front of people and talked!" Matt ex- 
claimed, aghast at the prospect. 

"You can learn," Brady cried. "Hell's bells! There's Peary up 
there in Maine sulking and not speaking in his own behalf, letting 
Cook have the field to himself. You owe it to Peary to defend 
him . . . and defend yourself. I'll book you into every major 
town in the country, by God. Do you have any pictures of the 
North Pole?" 

"Yes, sir. I took some snapshots." 

"Good. I'll make them into slides. You get a speech together 
and we'll rehearse it until you're sure of every word. Come down 
to my office tomorrow and we'll set up the tour." 

When Brady left the small apartment, Lucy smiled up at Matt 
and said, "A public speaker! My, I'll be proud." 

Personal tragedy came from this tour it caused an irreparable 
break between Henson and Peary. Matt wrote to Peary asking the 
loan of some of the pictures he had taken in the North and given 
to his commander. Peary not only refused use of the pictures; he 
forbade the lecture tour. Though he did not bother to elucidate 
them, he had two reasons for this order. 

First was his long-standing policy prohibiting his men from 
using their northern experiences for lectures until after he had 
written his own accounts and made his own lectures. And second, 
he wanted no one to speak at this time of controversy until the 
scientific societies had cleared his claim. He did not want to run 
the risk of having his position jeopardized by any random com- 
ments made by Henson, or anyone else. 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 195 ] 

To Henson this seemed an unfair prohibition. Peary had, in all 
truth, cut him adrift immediately after the Pole. Twenty-two 
years of service had been disregarded the moment the objective 
had been obtained. It could be argued that Peary had no responsi- 
bility to the former servant, the former assistant, the man who had 
saved his life, who had contributed mightily to the realization of 
his life's dream. The job was done and each man could be expected 
to go his own way. Certainly Henson would not have opposed 
such an argument. But, on the other hand, he was broke and he 
had a wife to support and it did seem to him that he had a right 
to his own pictures, his own memories. He went ahead with the 
lecture plans. 

Peary was deeply offended by this decision. And the aristocratic 
Mrs. Peary was coldly furious. She had never been able to accept 
Henson as anything but a servant, and it seemed to her insupport- 
able that a servant should speak when the master said silence. 

At the beginning, William Brady had no firm conviction on the 
controversy he was merely doing his job but he ended up with 
respect and affection for Matt. Years later he wrote in his auto- 

I tried to land Cook when he reached Copenhagen on his way 
back. But he knew all about lecture tours and had already got himself 
booked for a tour before he ever started for the Pole. ... I also 
tried to land Peary . . . but [he] didn't even give me the courtesy of 
an answer. For die third best and a pretty good third too I got 
Matt Henson, the negro who, along with three \sic\ Eskimos, had 
accompanied Peary to the Pole itself. ... As the only negro in the 
list of Polar heroes, he was certain to attract a lot of attention from 
the public in general and be a terrific drawing card for his own race 
in particular. He was an intelligent, good-looking, soft-spoken, modest 
fellow who, I was sure, would easily ingratiate himself with audi- 
ences. 58 

Brady, despite his show-wisdom, his long experience with audi- 
ences, was dead wrong! 
He booked Matt's first lecture at Middletown, Connecticut, 

[ 196 ] AHDOOLO! 

taking every possible step to make it a gala event. When he and 
Henson arrived on the train, the mayor was at the station to greet 
them, and a brass band led them on parade through the town to 
the lecture hall. Brady wrote, "It has always been my theory and 
it had never failed me before that the combination of a silk hat 
and a Sousa March will draw a crowd in any city in America for 
no reason at all. And here I had Hero No. 2 of the biggest story 
of the year. Yet the inhabitants of Middletown, acting on some 
mysterious common impulse, snubbed Henson as completely as if 
his build-up had consisted of merely a sandwich man." 54 

Receipts that afternoon were thirteen dollars and eighty cents. 
For the evening lecture they climbed to twenty-three dollars. 

Brady decided they needed some headlines and the place to get 
them was New York. He booked Henson into the Hippodrome. 
He got the headlines, all right. 

The Cook supporters, who thought they had intimidated Peary 
into silence, were furious to learn that one of his men dared 
speak out. They packed the Hippodrome. Backstage Matt paced 
nervously, trying to remember his speech. His mind seemed to 
have gone completely blank. Brady had bought him an English 
tweed walking suit, and though it was elegantly cut it was of the 
densest weave and clung to its sweating victim like an instrument 
of torture. The high stiff collar threatened to garrote him at any 
moment. In all his years in the North he had never suffered these 
exquisite tortures of stage fright. 

Brady paced beside him, trailing a cloud of cigar smoke and 
advice. "Just speak out, Matt. Good and loud. You've got a fine 
speech but they gotta hear it. Shout it to the back row." 

"Yes, sir," Matt said miserably. 

"And just remember you're a hero! You're braver than any 
man out there!" 

"Oh, Lord!" Henson breathed, half comment and half prayer. 

It caine time for him to go on the stage. He walked stiffly, as if 
his legs were brittle, and took his place at the rostrum. The spot- 
light burned down on his head beaded with perspiration. 

The Biography of Matthew A. Benson [ 197 ] 

"Ah . . .," he said. 

There was a silence in the hall, not one of sympathy, but a 
leering sort of hostility. 

"I ... ah ... ," Matt began again. And again he came to dead 
center. A whistle came from the balcony and then some catcalls. 

Something had to be done to get the lecture going, and Brady 
did it. He marched out on the stage and took his place beside 
Henson. Then he looked around challengingly at the audience and 
boomed, "My man Matthew Henson is here to answer every and 
all questions. If you have any, speak up!" 

A man jumped up in the front row and with practiced lawyer's 
gestures, he leveled a finger at Henson and demanded, "Were you 
at the North Pole?" 

"Yes, sir," Henson replied promptly, "I was." 

"How did you know you were at the North Pole?" the lawyer 

Matt paused a moment, then said, "Well, Commander Peary 
told me we were." 

Derisive laughter swept through the hall. The prosecutor in the 
front row waited* for it to subside, then, mimicking Henson's 
voice, he repeated, "Commander Peary told you you were." This 
drew new laughter. Now the lawyer demanded, "Can you take 
an observation on a sextant?" 

"Yes, sir," Henson replied. 

"How do you take an observation?" the lawyer thundered 

Matt looked stunned. He was stunned. In the heat of the ques- 
tioning he had claimed too much and trapped himself. He couldn't 
take an observation at all. As he stood, mute, the audience began 
to shout and stamp. The roar mounted until there was a full- 
scale riot. Henson and Brady were led out the rear door by the 

Now the Cook supporters had their battle cry: Peary had taken 
an ignorant Negro north with him instead of a scientist so that he 
could conceal the fact that he hadn't reached the Pole! 

Thus the stain of race prejudice was added to the already ugly 

[ 198 ] AHDOOLO! 

picture. Southern governors later refused to attend functions hon- 
oring Peary. 

Henson, who had hoped to help Peary, had ended by harming 
him. Not that he could have done otherwise, and his taking or not 
taking to the lecture platform had no bearing on the Cook sup- 
porters' determination to smear Peary. What he did do, however, 
was to give their propaganda a dramatic springboard, a projectile 
velocity that was to carry it far into the future. 

Twenty years later J. Gordon Hayes was to write a hostile 
biography of Peary in which he said: 

He [Peary] was not a scientist, and he seldom took out men who 
were qualified to conduct the investigations that are the first essential 
in new countries. If he included a few students in his staff, as he 
did on two or three of his expeditions, he was careful not to permit 
them to accompany him to his most distant points; though that is 
precisely what is wanted, and what the great explorers always do. 
Peary preferred to have Henson and the Eskimos as his companions, 
in spite of the fact that all of them, from the most important stand- 
points, were perfectly useless. 55 

Hayes and the other Cook supporters missed the essential of the 
Polar trip. It was survival! Peary was perfectly capable of taking 
celestial and solar observations, but he needed Henson and the 
Eskimos to get him to the Pole and back again. Without them he 
could never have made it. 

The members of the expedition, without exception, rallied to 
Henson's defense. Bardett wrote: "... I don't deny that it would 
have been a great thrill to have stood at the peak of our globe. 
But don't forget that Henson was a better dog driver than I. So 
I think Peary's reasoning was sound." 56 

George Borup wrote: ". . . Matt Henson, a jack-of-all-trades, 
and differing from that person in being apparently a master of 
them all; a dandy sledge-maker, good shot, and as good a dog 
driver as the best Eskimos. Many have been the criticisms of the 
commander for having taken Matt with him in the final dash, but 
we who knew his merits felt that Matt, from his long training in 
the North, thoroughly deserved to go." 67 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 199 ] 

Donald MacMillan, the most thoughtful man in the expedition, 

One question I have been asked again and again ... is, "Why did 
Peary select a colored man to accompany him to the Pole rather 
than one of his white assistants?" 

Matthew Henson first went north with Peary in 1891. He was 
with him on his long trip over the Greenland Ice Cap in 1893. He was 
with him when he rounded the northern end of Greenland in 1900. 
He was with him off Cape Hecla in 1902. He was with him when he 
broke the world's record in 1906. He was the most popular man 
aboard the ship with the Eskimos. He could talk their language like 
a native. He made all the sledges which went to the Pole. He made 
all the stoves. Henson, the colored man, went to the Pole with Peary 
because he was a better man than any of his white assistants. . . . 
After his many failures, Commander Peary owed it to himself, his 
family, his loyal backers, his country, to take the most effective man, 
to use the most serviceable. And this he did. And he won! 58 

But these reasoned words could not be heard in the gales of 
prejudice that swept about Henson and Peary. Few people came 
to Henson's lectures because few people wanted the truth if it 
meant giving up their passions. Brady canceled the tour and 
Henson returned home with a couple of hundred dollars to show 
for all the effort and pain. 

Peary was not without his supporters, but they were less bois- 
terous than the Cook men and therefore seemed even fewer in 
number than they were. But slowly the reputable societies began 
to react. The Explorers Club dropped Cook from membership 
after hearing testimony of fraud on his Mt. McKinley claim. The 
Arctic Club dropped him two days later. On January 4, 1910 the 
Council of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences expelled 
him from membership. 

All these months the University of Copenhagen had been de- 
manding Cook's documentary proof of his North Pole claim, and 
all these months he had said they were in the possession of Harry 
Whitney. But when this sportsman finally returned to America, 
he denied ever having received any documents from Cook. The 

[ 200 ] AHDOOLO! 

doctor blandly said that it was quite all right because he had 
duplicates. Under the greatest pressure, he finally sent these "du- 
plicates" to Denmark. 

The Consistory of the University of Copenhagen, after seeing 
the documents, reported on January 19, 1910: ". . . The Com- 
mittee is therefore of the opinion that the material sent us for 
investigation can furnish no proof whatsoever that Dr. Cook has 
reached the North Pole.'* 59 Privately, members of the Committee 
were more outspoken. Commander Gustav Holm said, "We exam- 
ined Cook's observations . . . and agreed unanimously that they 
were worthless." 60 Dr. Knud Rasmussen, a member of the Com- 
mittee who had originally been a Cook supporter, said, "When I 
saw the observations, I realized it was a scandal . . . the papers 
which Cook sent to Copenhagen are most impudent. . . ," 61 

One by one the scientific societies closed their doors to Cook, 
and in 1910 he disappeared, going to South America to live. But 
the air he left behind had been poisoned against Peary and Henson. 

[ XXII ] 

During the next two years Peary fought bitterly for his reputa- 
tion, for his claim to the Pole, and for retirement from the Navy 
on a Rear Admiral's pension. He was subject to the most hostile 
examination by some pro-Cook senators, and harassed by the line 
Navy brass who had long been jealous of the fame showered upon 
a reserve officer. 

In the midst of this travail there came a letter from Henson. It 
was dated April 10, .1911, and it read: 

Dear Sir: 

I am writing to ask a favor of you which I sincerely hope will be 
granted. My wife and I are writing a book and would like very much 
to have you write a preface. I could think of no better person than 
yourself, as the best portion of my life has been spent in your service 
and I have tried to the best of my ability to serve you faithfully. I 
can assure you -wherever your name has been mentioned in the book 
it has been in the most glowing terms. Thanking you in advance for 
a reply, I am, 

Yours very truly, 
Matthew A. Henson 62 

Peary did not reply for two weeks and when he did, the saluta- 
tion on the letter read "Dear Sir." 68 To call Henson "Sir" was a 

[201 ] 

[ 202 ] AHDOOLO! 

rebuke, of course. Yet, having done that, Peary went on to per- 
form an act of justice, even generosity. He not only agreed to 
write a foreword, after reading the manuscript, but directed 
Henson to take the book to his own publisher, Frederick A. Stokes 

On July 29, 1911 Peary received a letter from Stokes which 

Thank you very much for your telegram regarding the Henson 
book. I have written him, asking him to call, and I hope to arrange 
matters at once. Of course, his ideas of terms may be prohibitive, but 
I will do my best. ... In general, it seems to me best not to attempt 
to polish the work much, but merely to omit anything that is too 
strong. I think that the book will be much more interesting if left as 
nearly as possible in the form in which Henson wrote it, with all its 
defects, as to revise this away would be to destroy the straight- 
forwardness, sincerity and personality shown. . . . 64 

The book, entitled A Negro Explorer at the North Pole, was 
published by Stokes in February, 1912. The foreword was Peary 
at his best, blunt and just. He wrote: ". . . The example and 
experience of Matthew Henson, who has been a member of each 
and all of my Arctic expeditions since '91 ... is only another 
one of the multiplying illustrations of the fact that race, or color, 
or bringing-up, or environment count nothing against a deter- 
mined heart, if it is backed and aided by intelligence." 65 

Far from avoiding the race question, Peary met it head-on. By 
this courageous foreword he did much to heal the wounds he and 
Henson had inflicted on each other. However, for the rest of their 
lives they remained slightly estranged, partly because of the world 
in which they lived. In the northern wilderness they were bound 
together by the nature of the life; in civilization they were sepa- 
rated by the nature of the life. 

Henson's book, as his lectures, died quickly. The difference was 
that the book's short life was not spent amid shouted abuses, 
smears, and jeers. It died quietly. Which was even sadder. 

Meantime, Peary was winning his fight for recognition. 'Over 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 203 ] 

the objections of many line officers, he was promoted to Rear 
Admiral in the Navy and then retired on a pension close to $8,000 
a year. After long and acrimonious hearings, the House Com- 
mittee on Naval Affairs reported out, and the Congress passed, an 
official thanks. It read: 

"The Senate and House of Representatives of the United States 
of America, in Congress assembled. That the thanks of Congress 
be, and the same are hereby, tendered to Robert E. Peary, United 
States Navy, for his Arctic explorations, resulting in reaching the 
North Pole. Approved March 4, 1911. (signed) Wm. Howard 
Taft, President of the United States." 66 

What was notable in the resolution, aside from the awkward- 
ness, was the phrase, "reaching the North Pole." The Congress 
sidestepped the whole issue of who reached it first, who dis- 
covered it. 

The world's scientific societies were not so mealymouthed; they 
came out in unequivocal support of Peary's claims. The National 
Geographic Society was first to honor him with a gold medal, and 
this was followed by honors from the Royal Geographical Society 
in London and then from almost every major society around the 
world. The medals and scrolls became so numerous that Peary had 
special display cases constructed to hold them. His recognition 
had been tragically delayed, but now it came in abundance. 

To be sure, none of the scrolls mentioned Henson; none of the 
medals carried his profile; no banquet was held in his honor. The 
avalanche of praise for Peary buried the assistant. Except for his 
old comrades of the North and a few Negro friends, he was 

Charles Anderson was one of the few who did not forget. He 
was a Negro but also a politician of some skill and influence. One 
day he said to Henson, "Matt, you still working in that Brooklyn 

"Sure am. Why?" 

"Damn it, man, you deserve a better job than that. You deserve 
a job of respect and dignity." 

'Tine," Matt grinned. "You got one for me?" 

[ 204 ] AHDOOLO! 

"Well, no. But the country owes you something. If Peary can 
be retired as a Rear Admiral and get the thanks of Congress, you 
ought to get something." 

"Peary deserved everything he got, Charlie. And you know 
how a lot of people feel about me going to the Pole instead of 
Bardett, or some other white man. I don't want to stir things up 

"You may not want to stir things, but Tm sure as hell going to. 
I've got some influence in Washington and I'm going to see the 
government does something for you." 

Several months passed and Matt and Lucy forgot about the 
conversation. Then one night Charlie Anderson appeared at their 
door, a grin of triumph splitting his face. "Congratulations, Matt," 
he cried. "Your appointment came through from Washington." 

"What appointment?" Matt and Lucy chorused. 

"Signed by President Taft himself!" Charlie crowed. 

"What was signed by President Taft?" 

"You've got a job, Matt. You go to work at the Customs House, 
the United States Customs House downtown." 

"Is that a fact?" Matt said with a grin. Lucy took his arm 
proudly. "What kind of a job is it?" 

"Well." Suddenly Charlie Anderson seemed deflated. He sat 
down and took out his handkerchief and blew his nose. "Well . . . 
it was the only thing available, Matt." 

"Okay, what kind of a job? " 

"You're a messenger boy." 

The job paid $900 a year. Later the salary was increased to 
$2,000. During the Christmas holidays Matt worked in the Post 
Office to augment his income. Lucy kept her job in the bank and 
together they made out. Just barely. 

Robert E. Peary died in February, 1920 at the age of sixty-four. 
He had been ill for a long time with pernicious anemia. Science, 
though now able to control the disease, has never found a cure. One 
thing research has discovered in common among all sufferers is a 
history of severe emotional shock, 

Henson, who had not seen his commander since their return 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 205 ] 

from the Pole, sent a letter of condolence to the Peaiy family. It 
was acknowledged. 

Except for the Eskimos who had disappeared back into their 
tribes, Henson was the sole survivor of the dash to the Pole, and 
it was inevitable that, with the passing years and the cooling of 
the Cook-Peary passions, increasing efforts should be made to 
obtain proper recognition for him. 

Four times bills were presented in Congress to award him a 
pension (1926, 1936, 1938, and 1949) and four times the bills were 
bottled up in committee. His recognition was going to have to 
come in a less substantial manner. 

From the first his greatest champion was Donald MacMillan. 
With his own increasing reputation as an explorer, and his even- 
tual rank as a Rear Admiral, MacMillan raised an increasingly 
effective voice in demands for justice to Henson. 

In a letter to Illinois Governor Henry Homer on May 14, 1938, 
MacMillan appealed for pressure on Washington to pass a bill 
honoring Henson. After reviewing Henson's Arctic career, he 

The importance of the part played by Matthew A. Henson during 
those eighteen years of struggle against the elements of the North 
has never been recognized by our country, or by a single organization 
in the United States. Knowing that honors and medals have been 
bestowed and awarded to men in a similar line of work, men who 
have not accomplished one tenth the amount of work, it is very 
evident that there is one reason only why Henson has not be [en] 
honored he is black. 

I understand that every one of Byrd's men, even the cook, the boy 
who fed the dogs, men who never left the warm hut seven hundred 
miles from the [South] Pole, received a gold medal from Congress. 
Surely they must feel that this man [who] helped to bring such a 
great honor to his country should in some way be recognized. 67 

MacMillan was wrong. The Congress did not feel that Henson's 
contribution to the nation should be recognized and the bill never 
got out of committee. 

[ 206 ] AHDOOLO! 

Gradually MacMillan began to make some progress on the non- 
governmental level, however. In 1937 Henson was elected to full 
membership in the Explorers Club and Lowell Thomas chaired a 
special dinner in his honor. March of the following year saw 
Henson elected an honorary member of the Academy of Science 
and Art of Pittsburgh. 

In 1944, thirty-five years after the event, Congress did respond 
to the pressure by striking off one medal honoring all the men 
of the Peary expedition: Marvin, MacMillan, Bartlett, Borup, 
Goodsell, and Henson. This was apparently done on the theory 
that one black man diluted by five whites made a sufficiently weak 
potion to be swallowed. 

The following year all members of the expedition received the 
Navy Medal. Henson received his in a private ceremony in the 
office of a commander. And in March of 1948 MacMillan suc- 
ceeded in having the Geographic Society of Chicago strike off a 
gold medal for Henson and give him a testimonial banquet. The 
officials of the society were then humiliated to find that when 
their guest of honor arrived, no hotel would rent him a room for 
the night and they had to scurry around to find private accom- 

Each year as the anniversary of the discovery of the Pole came 
around, Matt's story reappeared in the newspapers and he was 
honored in various ways. In 1950, the forty-first anniversary, he 
was honored in military ceremonies in the Pentagon and received 
a salute from President Truman. In 1954 President Eisenhower 
received him in the White House, and then he went to Arlington 
Cemetery to place a wreath on Peary's grave. Dillard University 
in New Orleans named its new gymnasium and auditorium 
Henson Hall. A Matthew A. Henson grammar school was built 
on South Avers Avenue in Chicago. The sculptor John LeFarge 
made a bust of him and it was presented to the National Associa- 
tion for the Advancement of Colored People by W. Averell 

Sparked by Herbert Frisby, a reporter for the Baltimore Afro- 
American, the Negroes of Maryland undertook a successful drive 

The Biography of Matthew A. Henson [ 207 ] 

to have their native son honored. On the fiftieth anniversary, 
Maryland Governor J. Millard Tawes declared April 6 "Matthew 
Henson Day." And two years later there was passed by the State 
Legislature and signed by Governor Tawes a bill to provide for 
the installation in the State House of a bronze tablet honoring 
Henson. This was done with elaborate ceremonies, the first me- 
morial plaque in that Southern state to honor a Negro. 

The tablet inscription read, in part: "Son of Maryland, exempli- 
fication of courage, fortitude and patriotism, whose valiant deeds 
of noble devotion under the command of Admiral Robert Edwin 
Peary, in pioneer arctic exploration and discovery, established ever- 
lasting prestige and glory for his State and Country . . . Matthew 
Alexander Henson, Co-discoverer of the North Pole . . ," 68 

From long years of having been completely ignored, Henson 
now was suddenly billed as "co-discoverer" with Peary. This was 
certainly a brand of political hyperbole. If Henson was co-dis- 
coverer, so were Ootah and Ooqueah and Seegloo and Egingwah. 
He might, with more truth, be hailed as an "assistant discoverer," 
but such language wouldn't have the rounded sound so dear to 
orators' hearts. 

[ XXIII ] 

The honors that came to Henson did not alter his life. They were 
spread over the forty-six years that elapsed between reaching the 
Pole and his death, and since none of them contained a grant of 
funds, he remained tied to modest and routine days. He seldom 
attended meetings of the Explorers Club because he could not 
afford the cost of the lunch. 

He was seventy years old in 1937, and was forced to retire on 
a pension of $1,020 a year. He took care of the apartment while 
Lucy worked, and cooked the meals at night for her when she 
got home. He took long walks, no longer through the crisp, clean 
air of the Arctic, but through the fetid air of Harlem streets. 

If he had been largely ignored by history, he was a celebrity 
in his neighborhood. Small boys ran after him in the streets, cry- 
ing, "Matt, Matt, hi, Matt!" And as they circled him they looked 
with awe at his "whip thumb." The right thumb was twisted and 
deformed from years of snapping the long whip above the ear of 
the king dog. The boys were both fascinated and fearful, for it 
did not seem beyond possibility that he might suddenly produce 
a whip and snap it above them and drive them down the street, 
crying "Huk . . . huk!" They almost wished he would. 

Lucy was a great clubwoman and a faithful churchgoer. Every 

[ 208 ] 

The Biography of Matthew A. Benson [ 209 ] 

Sunday Matt accompanied her to the Abyssinian Baptist Church, 
demanding only that he be allowed to sit in a rear pew. He never 
could bring himself to sit entirely through a sermon delivered by 
the Reverend Adam Clayton Powell, and toward the end he 
would sneak out of the church and stand on the curb to watch 
the passing traffic. He would be there when the services ended and 
the ladies in their Sunday finery swept out to form an admiring 
circle around him. It was "Matt this," and "Matt that," and "Matt 
the other thing" until Lucy finally took firm possession of him 
and marched him home. 

He didn't talk much about the Pole in the later days. He ex- 
plained, "Folks soon got tired of the subject. I got tired of talking 
about myself, too." He was a kindly and cheerful man who had no 
need to brag, who attracted friends not because of his exploits but 
because of himself. 

His health was remarkably good until the end. He had an opera- 
tion for a hernia and recovered well. But soon after he developed 
pains in the prostate. He was a man both self-sufficient and poor, 
and he did what such men do: he got hold of a book on homeo- 
pathic medicine and began to treat himself. Lucy did not know of 
his agony until one day she came home and found him sitting in 
a tub full of hot medication; then she called the doctor. 

He was operated on in St. Clare's Hospital and died two days 
later, on March 9, 1955. He was eighty-eight years old. 

The newspapers editorially marked his passing. There were a 
number of attempts to assess the man and his contribution. It was 
pointed out that the Arctic has become central to the twentieth 
century, that the Polar Basin has become the new Mediterranean, 
the "middle sea" of the earth, and is being contended for by all the 
great powers. Science may soon be able to alter the temperature 
balance and convert cold regions into hospitable and productive 
ones capable of containing and feeding future generations. Peary 
and Henson opened this new frontier. 

Peary no doubt saw much of this on the horizon of his times, 
but Henson's motives and goals were certainly more modest. He 
started out for adventure, then went on to prove that his race is 

[ 210 ] AHDOOLO! 

capable of endurance and achievement, and he wound up with love 
love of the Eskimos. And there is his lasting monument. 

Today there are Eskimo legends about Miy Paluk that bring 
warm smiles to brown faces. The old men hand the legends down 
to the younger ones, and for a hunter to have known Henson in 
person is to distinguish him forever. These old men tell a story 
about Miy Paluk when he first came north and could speak no 
more Eskimo than a baby. He led them on long marches and great 
hunting expeditions, and whenever he wanted to bring them out 
of their igloos and onto the trail for a long stretch of back- 
breaking work, he would shout "Ahdoolo! Ahdoolo!" It was a 
meaningless word, a word he had made up, and each time he used 
it, the Eskimos would double up in gales of laughter. And they 
would keep chuckling over it during the march, the word warm- 
ing them, cheering them on, making their work easier. 

The word became part of the Eskimos' vocabulary, passed on 
from generation to generation. It still has no specific meaning, but 
vaguely expresses hope and courage. 

To create a word, especially such a word as "ahdoolo," seems 
sufficient contribution for any man. 


Noted here are documents on the written words of the principals. 
Dialogue is an elusive element and even die man who speaks it can 
hardly be trusted to remember it with accuracy the following day. 

1. Eivind Astrup, With Peary Near the Pole (Pearson, London & 

2. Robert E. Peary, Northward over the Great Ice, VoL I (New 
York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1898). 

3. Stefansson Collection, Baker Library, Dartmouth College, Han- 
over, New Hampshire. 

4. Northward over the Great Ice, VoL I 

5. Shown author by Cook's daughter, Mrs. Helene Cook Vetter. 

6. Matthew A. Henson, A Negro Explorer at the North Pole (New 
York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1912). 

7. Josephine Diebitsch Peary, My Arctic Journal (Contemporary 
Publishing Company, 1893). 

8. Northward over the Great lce y Vol. I. 

9. Ibid. 

10. Ibid. 

11. Ibid. 

12. Shown author by Lee's son, H. Wales Lee. 

13. Ibid. 

14. Northward over the Great Ice, VoL IL 

15. Ibid. 

16. IKd. 

17. Ibid. 

18. Ibid. 

19. Shown author by H. Wales Lee. 

20. Ibid. 

[ 211 ] 

[ 212 ] NOTES 

21. Ibid. 

22. Northward over the Great Ice, Vol. II. 

23. Shown author by H, Wales Lee. 

24. Ibid. 

25. Northward over the Great Ice, Vol. IL 

26. Robert E. Peary, Nearest the Pole (New York: Doubleday Page & 
Company, 1907). 

27. Ibid. 

28. Hampton's Magazine (January, 1910). 

29. Robert A. Harriett, The Log of Bob Bartlett (New York: G. P. 
Putnam's Sons, 1928). 

30. Nearest the Pole. 

31. Letter to author from MacMillan. 

32. A Negro Explorer at the North Pole. 

33. Letter to author. 

34. Robert E. Peary, The North Pole (New York: Frederick A. 
Stokes Company, 1910). 

35. The Log of Bob Bartlett. 

36. The North Pole. 

37. Ibid. 

38. Ibid. 

39. Letter to the author. 

40. George Borup, A Tenderfoot with Peary (New York: Frederick 
A. Stokes Company, 1911). 

41. Letter to the author. 

42. Donald B. MacMillan, How Peary Reached the Pole (Boston: 
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1953). 

43. The North Pole. 

44. Ibid. 

45. How Peary Reached the Pole. 

46. Ibid. 

47. A Tenderfoot with Peary. 

48. The North Pole. 

49. Ibid. 

50. How Peary Reached the Pole. 

51. Ibid. 

52. William Herbert Hobbs, Peary (New York: The Macmillan 
Company, 1936). 

Notes I 213 J 

53. William A. Brady, Showman (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 
Inc., 1937). 

54. Ibid. 

55. J. Gordon Hayes, Robert Edwin Peary (London: Richards & 
Toulmin, 1929). 

56. The Log of Bob Bartlett. 

57. A Tenderfoot 'with Peary. 

58. How Peary Reached the Pole. 

59. Hobbs, Peary. 

60. Ibid. 

61. Ibid. 

62. Shown the author by Marie Peary Stafford from the Peary family 

63. Ibid. 

64. Ibid. 

65. A Negro Explorer at the North Pole. 

66. Peary family archives. 

67. Shown author by Admiral MacMillan* 

68. Shown author by Herbert Frisby. 


ALLEN, EVERETT S. Arctic Odyssey. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 


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Brothers, 1948. 
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BRADY, WILLIAM A. Showman. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1937. 
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10th International Congress of Geography (Rome, 1913). 
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GREELY, MAJOR GENERAL A. W. Handbook of Arctic Discoveries. 

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GREEN, Frrz-HuGH. The Man Who Refused to Fail. New York: 

G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1926. 
HALL, THOMAS F. Has the North Pole Been Discovered? Boston: 

Richard Badger, 1917. 
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Abruzzi, Duke of, 127 
Ahmmahlakoto, 125 
Ahnalka, 43, 46-48, 56-59, 90, 144 
Ahnidloo, 120 
Ahpellah, 187 
Akpudisoahho, 81, 95 
Anderson, Charles, 203-204 
Annowkah, 95 

Astrup, Eivind, 26-27, 38, 40, 50, 
52, 61, 67, 71, 75, 79 

Baldwin, E. B., 71 

Barker, Elsa, 117 

Bardett, Captain Bob, 132, 142, 

145-46, 155, 159, 162, 164, 168- 

70, 172-73, 182, 192, 198, 206 
Borup, George, 138, 152, 154-57, 

159-60, 162, 164, 167, 168-70, 

192, 198, 206 

Brady, William, 193-97, 199 
Byrd, Admiral Richard E., 205 

Carr, George, 71, 74-75, 79, 180 

Childs, Captain A., 16-18 

Clark, George H., 71, 75 

Cook, Dr. Frederick A., 15, 27, 29, 
33, 37-40, 42, 50, 63, 67-70; con- 
troversy with Peary, 185-201 

Cook, Lilly, 69 

Cross, Susan J., 71-72, 74, 76-77, 

Davidson, James, 71, 75, 79-80 
Diebitsch, Herman, 24 

Egingwah, 173, 176, 179-82, 207 
Eisenhower, President Dwight, 


Entrikin, Samuel, 71, 75 
Etookashoo, 187-88 

Franke, Rudolph, 186 
Freuchen, Peter, 189 
Frisby, Herbert, 206 
Fulton, Robert, 192 

Gardner, George, 115-16, 129 
Gibson, Langdon, 27, 33, 38-40, 

49-50, 52, 67 
Goodsell, Dr. J. W., 138, 142, 155, 

160, 169-70, 192, 206 
Greely, General Adolphus W., 

68, 119, 149, 191 

[ 219 ] 

[ 220 ] 

Hall, Charles Francis, 149 

Harriman, W. Averell, 206 

Hayes, J. Gordon, 198 

Heilprin, Angelo, 64 

Henson, Mrs. Lucy, 129-30, 188, 
193-94, 204, 208-209 

Henson, Matthew: youth, 13-17; 
Nicaragua Expedition, 19-27; 
First Greenland Expedition, 
28-29, 31, 33-38, 41, 43^6, 48- 
70; Second Greenland Expedi- 
tion, 71-72, 74, 76, 80-116; Polar 
Expedition of 1898, 117-22; Po- 
lar Expedition of 1900, 123; 
Polar Expedition of 1901, 123- 
24; Polar Expedition of 1902, 
124-30; Polar Expedition of 
1905, 132, 135-36; Polar Ex- 
pedition of 1908-1909, 137-40, 
143-45, 149-56, 158-62, 165-67, 
169-83; Cook controversy, 184- 
85, 187-88, 192-99, 201-203; 
fight for recognition, 204-205, 

Holm, Commander Gustav, 200 

Homer, Governor Henry, 205 

Ikwah, 40-41, 44-48, 54, 56-59, 63, 

Kahdahsu, 81, 95 

Kane, Dr. Elisha Kent, 149 


Keen, Dr. W. W., 130-31 

Kudlooktoo, 76-77, 92, 144 

Kyotah, 164 


Lee, Hugh J., 71, 74-75, 78-80, 82, 

88-104, 107-108, 110-13 
LeFarge, John, 206 
LeGallienne, Richard, 117 

MacMillan, Donald B., 44, 138, 
140, 142-43, 149, 154-57, 159, 
162, 165-70; Cook controversy, 
187-88, 192, 199, 205-206 

Marvin, Ross M., 138, 142, 155, 
159, 164, 166-72, 182, 184, 206 

Mills, Dr. Jackson M., 69 

Nooktah, 81, 95, 97-98 
Nupsah, 95 

Ooqueah, 173, 176, 179-81, 207 
Ootah, 144, 173, 175, 177-81, 183, 

Panika, 166 

Peary, Josephine Diebitsch, 24- 
25, 27, 33, 40-41, 43, 50-52, 54, 
57, 59, 61-<55, 71-72, 79-80, 142, 

Peary, Marie Ahnighito, 72-73, 
80, 142 

Peary, Robert E., 13-15, 18; Nic- 
aragua Expedition, 19-27; First 
Greenland Expedition, 28-29, 
31-41, 43, 50, 52, 54, 57-70; 
Second Greenland Expedition, 
71-72, 75-76, 78-80, 82-117; 
Polar Expedition of 1898, 117- 
22; Polar Expedition of 1900, 


Peary, Robert E. (cont.) 

123; Polar Expedition of 1901, 
123-24; Polar Expedition of 
1902, 124-31; Polar Expedition 
of 1905, 132-36; Polar Expedi- 
tion of 1908-1909, 137-42, 144- 
48, 150-51, 153, 155-62, 164-76, 
178-83; Cook controversy, 184- 
204, 206-207, 209 

Percy, Charlie, 138 

Pooadloona, 166 

Powell, Rev. Adam Clayton, 209 

Quolugtinguaq, 54-55 

[ 221 ] 

Seegloo, 144, 168, 173, 176, 179- 

81, 207 

Seneca, Annaeus, 121 
Sipsoo, 120, 144 
Soker, 95 

Steinmetz, Sam, 13-15 
Stokes, Frederick, 71 
Stokes, Frederick A., 202 
Swain, Walter F., 71 

Taft, President William Howard, 


Tawes, Governor J. Millard, 207 
Thomas, Lowell, 206 
Truman, President Harry S., 206 

Rasmussen, Dr. Knud, 200 
Roosevelt, President Theodore, 

25, 131, 141 
Ross, Sir Joseph, 79 
Ross, Lucy; see Henson, Mrs. 


Verhoeff, John T., 27, 32, 3&-40, 

49-50, 52, 66-67 
Vincent, Edward, 71, 75 

Whitney, Harry, 145, 185, 

(Continued from front flap) 

evenness of temper and integrity. Peary was 
a proud and aristocratic man, and an in- 
teresting and curious relationship existed 
between the two: the visionary and the 
practical man. Floyd Miller's fast-paced bi- 
ography is the story of Henson's growth into 
a legitimate although unrecognized hero. 
Henson learned the crafts and skills of the 
Eskimos, and spoke their language like a 
native. His skin was much the same color 
as theirs they called him Miy Paluk and 
he became a hero to them. 

Ahdoolo! dramatically recounts the story of 
the successful conquest of the North Pole 
from its inception to its realization and the 
bitter controversy that followed. The suffer- 
ing by all those who took part in Peary's 
quest, the constant danger of death and 
disaster, the excitement, jealousies, heart- 
break and humor are all here. Written in a 
clear, simple style that creates a furiously 
fast pace, Ahdoolo! will appeal to readers 
young and old who are hungry for true